Calif. colleges now more accountable for crime statistics

CALIFORNIA — Starting in 2004, colleges and universities in the Golden State will more likely be caught if they underreport campus crime statistics.

Gov. Gray Davis signed the California Campus Crime Audit bill Sept. 24 to add muscle to the Clery Act, the federal law on campus crime reporting. The California bill, which gained unanimous support in both houses of the legislature, authorizes the state auditor to randomly select colleges and universities to verify the crime statistics they report.

Under the bill, at least six schools are required to submit to the random auditing that will take place every three years. The auditor will “evaluate the accuracy of their statistics and the procedures used by the institutions to identify, gather and track data for publishing, disseminating and reporting accurate crime statistics in compliance with the Clery Act.”

The Jeanne Clery Act, named after the Lehigh University student who was murdered in her dormitory, mandates schools report crime statistics that happen near or around their campuses. The law, however, did not set up a mechanism to hold universities accountable for accurate reporting, independent of a complaint being filed against them.

Schools routinely under represent the amount of crime that occurs on their campuses, said Daniel Carter, president of the nonprofit monitoring group, Security on Campus, Inc., based in King of Prussia, Pa.

“Schools underreport to protect their image. They don’t want the bad publicity, and they don’t want to go to the trouble to correctly evaluate all of their information,” he said.

The bill was first introduced last February by assembly member Hannah Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, in response to a series of articles by the Sacramento Bee that investigated the reporting of campus crime.

Under the bill, California professional and student journalists should be able to gather more accurate crime statistics for articles.