Uncovering Campus Safety's Lack of Transparency
Adam Starr | Sept. 16, 2017, 2:22 p.m.
In 1990, the United States Congress unanimously passed the Jeane Clery Act, requiring universities to disclose statistics about crime on and around campus so students could properly evaluate their school's safety.
The intent of the law is clear: colleges ought to make information about crime on and around campus publicly available. Safety requires transparency.
In the spirit of the Clery Act, many colleges publish online logs with brief descriptions of incidents. However, the Claremont University Consortium fails to embrace the intent of the law by limiting access to information and improperly maintaining records.
Why is the Consortium's default mode secrecy and not openness?
The Consortium must create practices in the spirit of the Clery Act. Limiting access to information goes against the core mission of academe and places our community at risk.
Some manifestations of the Clery Act include timely warnings and the annual Safety and Security Reports. Another requirement of the Act is that institutions maintain a complete and accurate daily log of all known campus crime. Once an log entry is added, it may not be deleted.
The 2016 Clery Act Handbook requires that institutions "let students and employees know that the log is available, what it contains, and where it is" and suggests information be in student handbooks and "anywhere else it’s likely to be seen."
The daily crime logs are not referenced in any 7C student handbook nor any 7C Title IX or Sexual Misconduct Policy – they are also not referenced in the section entitled "The College’s External Reporting Obligations."
As I was researching Pomona College bike thefts for a class project, I requested Pomona College crime logs from Campus Safety. While I was not looking to find failures in their system, I was shocked by my experiences.
To access records, I was required to submit identification, being that the Campus Safety representative stated that the department is obligated to maintain a record of who accesses the log. Requiring personal information for log access suggests a violation of Clery Act, as the Clery Handbook prohibits institutions from requiring written requests for the sixty day log.
To get better context about bike theft, I requested previous years’ logs as well, and Campus Safety directed me to the annual security report which covered three years of aggregate data. With this, I became suspicious.
I reiterated my request for previous logs with the support of Pomona College, and Campus Safety informed me that photographing the logs or possessing a digital copy would be illegal.
Campus Safety Director Stan Skipworth claimed that neither he nor Pomona College “possesses the statutory authority” to release digital copies of the logs. He further claimed to be unable to find "a colleague that supports this much broader interpretation" of the Clery Act as to allow such access.
Ultimately, Skipworth authorized the release of digital logs as "a one time courtesy" without a guarantee of “accuracy, completeness, timeliness or correct sequencing of the information."
What is the purpose of the log if not an accurate, complete, and timely record of crime on campus? If Skipworth supports the release of digital records, why does he continue to limit access?
Evidence suggests that the logs are not properly managed. One example of this is that not all entries are properly recorded. Consider the April 23, 2017 trespassing arrest of Michael London. As of June 15, 2017, the logs did not indicate that arrest was made.
Additionally, entries of known reports seem to be missing from the logs. Campus Safety provided me with a list of reported bike thefts on Pomona's campus. Some of these thefts were not indicated in the logs.
Campus Safety preemptively suggested that the discrepancy may be due to reclassification, but reclassifications are not justifications to remove entries from the logs. Have other reports been removed from – or never been added to – the logs?
The consortium must reexamine its policies surrounding crime log maintenance, access, and publicity. Students must be made aware of and provided easy and timely access to an accurate daily crime log.
Safety requires transparency. The consortium needs to go beyond the minimum reporting requirements of the Clery Act. In a recent conversation, Campus Safety indicated that they are further restricting access to the logs and that upcoming reports will reflect their “actual” policies.
Skipworth claimed that work on a website to provide online logs will begin in a matter of “weeks.”
The crime logs should include descriptions of the events, and if a member of our community asks about an incident, Campus Safety should be informative without placing the victim at risk.
Campus Safety often plays the obstructionist in response to inquiries about crime on campus. Skipworth claims to support openness while simultaneously limiting college supported student access. Campus Safety must increase access to these public records.