Wall Street Journal reporter Zachary M. Seward reports October 23 (subscription may be required) that colleges are systematically underreporting the incidence of crimes on campus.
Under a 1990 law known as the Clery Act, schools must report statistics on burglaries — but not larcenies — to the Education Department and to students and staff. Schools report larceny totals separately to the FBI for its annual report on crime in the U.S. But thefts, whether characterized as burglary or larceny, are only part of the problem of gauging campus security. Some schools have understated violent crimes such as robberies and sexual assaults.
Crime statistics are a sensitive matter for colleges, which initially resisted passage of the Clery Act. The law, named for a student murdered in 1986 at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, is intended to provide accurate assessments of campus crime for applicants, students and their parents.
Colleges have strong incentives to underreport campus crime. The Journal article suggests that underreporting is rampant.
The federal Information Quality Act requires that statistical information disseminated by the Department must meet standards for utility, integrity and objectivity. “Utility” means that the data must be useful for its intended purposes and users — in this case, students and prospective students and their families, who must be able to use the statistics to evaluate campus risks. “Integrity” means that there are systems in place to prevent data from being purposefully altered or changed inadvertently. “Objectivity” means the data must be unbiased — i.e., neither understating not overstating actual circumstances.
The Department of Education’s statistical reports begin with the following disclaimer:
The crime data reported by the institutions have not been subjected to independent verification by the U.S. Department of Education. Therefore, the Department cannot vouch for the accuracy of the data reported here.
This disclaimer does not inoculate EdD from claims that it is in violation of the Information Quality Act. The Clery Act itself prescribes what data “shall be produced and be made readily available upon request, through appropriate publications, mailings, and electronic media, to an enrolled student and to any prospective student” by each institution receiving federal assistance.
The law implicitly transfers the burden of achieving federal information quality standards to covered colleges and universities. EdD’s role is a clerical one, but it has a very powerful enforcement tool to discipline institutions that do not provide valid and reliable data — the authority to deny federal funds. EdD’s implementing regulations make clear that reporting — and imply that accurate reporting — is nondiscretionary. The Department’s regulations do not make clear what level of error or noncompliance is sufficient to trigger sanctions.
According to Seward, colleges and universities may be cheating on certain definitions. for example, burglaries but not larcenies must be reported. “Burglary” is defined by the FBI (p. 28) as “[t]he unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or theft.”EdD’s regulatory definition is more expansive:
The unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or a theft. For reporting purposes this definition includes: unlawful entry with intent to commit a larceny or felony; breaking and entering with intent to commit a larceny; housebreaking; safecracking; and all attempts to commit any of the aforementioned.
Larceny is defined by the FBI as “[t]he unlawful taking, carrying, leading, or riding
away of property from the possession or constructive possession of another.” The Clery Act does not require colleges and universities to report larcenies. Seward’s article suggests that they are classifying burglaries as larcenies to evade the reporting requirement.
Alternatively (or perhaps additionally), colleges and universities may be misapplying what’s called the hotel rule, which permits multiple burglaries to be reported as single events under certain circumstances. Those circumstances do not apply to college dormitories, however.
Seward’s article is accompanied by the following chart, which compares the number of reported burglaries and larcenies at five well-known universities. At Harvard, the ratio of (Clery reportable) burglaries to (Clery non-reportable) larcenies is about 2:1. But at the other four universities, the lowest ratio is 0.3:1.
20 U.S.C. 1092(f) Disclosure of campus security policy and campus crime statistics
(1) Each eligible institution participating in any program under this subchapter and part C of subchapter I of chapter 34 of title 42 shall on August 1, 1991, begin to collect the following information with respect to campus crime statistics and campus security policies of that institution, and beginning September 1, 1992, and each year thereafter, prepare, publish, and distribute, through appropriate publications or mailings, to all current students and employees, and to any applicant for enrollment or employment upon request, an annual security report containing at least the following information with respect to the campus security policies and campus crime statistics of that institution:
(A) A statement of current campus policies regarding procedures and facilities for students and others to report criminal actions or other emergencies occurring on campus and policies concerning the institution’s response to such reports.
(B) A statement of current policies concerning security and access to campus facilities, including campus residences, and security considerations used in the maintenance of campus facilities.
(C) A statement of current policies concerning campus law enforcement, including—
(i) the enforcement authority of security personnel, including their working relationship with State and local police agencies; and
(ii) policies which encourage accurate and prompt reporting of all crimes to the campus police and the appropriate police agencies.
(D) A description of the type and frequency of programs designed to inform students and employees about campus security procedures and practices and to encourage students and employees to be responsible for their own security and the security of others.
(E) A description of programs designed to inform students and employees about the prevention of crimes.
(F) Statistics concerning the occurrence on campus, in or on noncampus buildings or property, and on public property during the most recent calendar year, and during the 2 preceding calendar years for which data are available—
(i) of the following criminal offenses reported to campus security authorities or local police agencies:
(II) sex offenses, forcible or nonforcible;
(IV) aggravated assault;
(VI) motor vehicle theft;
(VIII) arson; and
(IX) arrests or persons referred for campus disciplinary action for liquor law violations, drug-related violations, and weapons possession; and
(ii) of the crimes described in subclauses (I) through (VIII) of clause (i), and other crimes involving bodily injury to any person in which the victim is intentionally selected because of the actual or perceived race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or disability of the victim that are reported to campus security authorities or local police agencies, which data shall be collected and reported according to category of prejudice.
EdD’s implementing regulations have slightly different language.
Judgment, and its attendant discretion, is inherent to the reporting of so-called hate crimes because intent must be discerned without necessarily having sufficient information to do so. Other crimes, however, are defined in accordance with the the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting system, which are incorporated into the implementing regulation.
The Hotel Rule
Burglaries of hotels, motels, lodging houses, and other places where lodging of transients is the main purpose are scored under provisions of the Hotel Rule. This principle of scoring dictates that if a number of dwelling units under a single manager are burglarized and the offenses are most likely to be reported to the police by the manager rather than the individual tenants, the burglary must be scored as one offense.
See UCR Handbook at 62.