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Lack of timely crime reporting appears to violate federal law

By Fleur Bailey and Alex Luthi

In the face of increasing concerns for public safety, a review of City College records by The Guardsman has revealed the college appears to be failing to comply with the Jeanne Clery Act, a federal law regulating the reporting of crime on college campuses.

While the college appears to be complying with portions of the law, the requirement of any college or university that employs a campus police department or security force to publish a regularly updated crime log has not been followed by City College.

According to the Clery Act, formerly the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990, the college’s requirements can be simplified into three parts: A requirement to produce yearly statistics of crime of a certain nature on campus, a requirement to issue timely warnings regarding ongoing threats to the campus, and a daily crime log no more than two business days out of date.

Graph detailing City College's recent Clery Act compliance. INFOGRAPHIC BY ALEX LUTHI / THE GUARDSMAN
Graph detailing City College's recent Clery Act compliance. INFOGRAPHIC BY ALEX LUTHI / THE GUARDSMAN

City College does not currently have a full-time chief of police, but Rod Santos, dean of public safety for City College has undertaken some of the responsibilities until a suitable replacement is found. Santos said although he was familiar with the Clery Act, he was unaware that City College was not fully complying with all requirements.

“It’s news to me that we might not be following the Clery Act,” he said. “I didn’t know that there was a 48 hour turnaround time [for crime log updates]. My definition of it is broad; I thought it was just about reporting campus crime.”

Although the San Francisco Community College District Police Department Web site does contain recent crime alerts and annual crime statistics, the last entry to the police log is a report of a stolen backpack that was recovered by the SFCCDPD on Feb. 12. As of press time, the college’s crime log would have to be up-to-date for all reported crimes as of March 6 to comply with the Clery Act.

“I think it is important for students to know what’s happening,” said Yuji Matsumoto, 23, a Japanese and English major and a docent of the Diego Rivera Mural at City College. “It’s in their job description to update their crime log. Accountability is the bottom line and I think it’s irresponsible if they’re not doing it.”

Currently, only one SFCCDPD officer undertakes the task of updating the campus’ crime log. Officer Christian Smith, who compiles the annual statistics for the college, says he uses any time he has outside of his regular duties to update the log. Smith is one of the two peace officers currently stationed at Ocean campus.

“There is no cover up, it’s not a conspiracy [why the log isn’t updated regularly], it’s just a lack of time,” he said. “We are understaffed. There are only two officers on Ocean campus right now, so we can’t be as proactive. I probably could make time, but it doesn’t feel right. I’d rather be out doing my job.”

“We have to be very careful how we handle things,” Smith said. “We’re careful how we release information without endangering the victim or making an already traumatized person more traumatized. We are very careful about victims’ rights, especially sexual battery or very sensitive cases.”

If a college is not complying fully with the Clery Act, a complaint can be filed with the U.S. Department of Education, which is in charge of enforcing Clery Act compliance.

If an ensuing investigation finds a college in violation of the Clery Act, the college can be fined a maximum $27,500 per violation. The total amount of fines can vary, depending on the gravity of the violation and the size of the institution. If the violations are severe enough, the college can lose all of its federal funding, including federal financial aid.

Eastern Michigan University is the most recent of four U.S. colleges to be fined for violating the Clery Act. The University received a $350,000 fine in June 2008 after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education uncovered that EMU had concealed the cause of death of one of its students in 2006.

Media reports stated that the student, Laura Dickinson, was raped and murdered in her dorm room. The university withheld information for 10 weeks after Dickinson’s death before announcing to her parents and the college’s community that her death was actually a homicide.

The Jeanne Clery Act, named after the daughter of Howard and Connie Clery, a freshman at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Penn. who was raped and murdered in her dorm room in 1986. After her death, Clery’s parents discovered Lehigh students had not been informed about 38 previous violent crimes that had occurred on campus during the three years prior to their daughter’s death.

The Clerys then pushed to have a law created to inform students and the public about crime on college campuses, in the hope that publishing information on campus crime would help students make more informed choices about their safety.

The act was revised in 1998 to include the requirement of updating the crime logs within two days of the last reported incident. While the annual statistics need only cover crimes of a certain severity, a college’s crime log must include all incidents reported to the security force or police department for the college. The log must be made available to any member of the public for inspection.

“I generally feel safe on campus,” said Akira Wong, a 27-year-old English major. “I see the crime alerts posted around campus and I’m curious so I always read them. I don’t go looking for the information, but it’s surprising that there have been so many unreported crimes.”

City College’s police department also falls under the jurisdiction of Peter Goldstein, vice chancellor of finance and administration. Goldstein said that he will work with Santos to keep the crime log up-to-date, and that Santos will ensure a second person is trained to update the log so the college will no longer rely on a single individual.

“The law is the law and we have to comply,” Goldstein said.

This is the first installment of a series highlighting public safety on community college campuses in The Guardsman. The next installment in the series will be in the March 25 issue of The Guardsman.

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