The University Record, November 26, 1997

Campus safety specialists question need for new federal regulations

By Deborah Gilbert
News and Information Services

Her face on the giant teleconference screen in the Union's Anderson Room was blocked by scrambled pixels, but the female college student's slurred words were distinct enough.

"I am not drunk. Why are you giving me a ticket? Why? I'm not drunk. Really." A University of Vermont public safety officer patiently responded that she was, indeed, intoxicated. Then the officer put the student inside a campus security car and prepared to drop her off at a local hospital where she could detoxify and spend the night in safety.

This videotaped scene launched a nationwide teleconference on Nov. 16-- "Protecting Your Campus from Crime: Challenges and Solutions." The teleconference, produced by the University of Vermont, was attended by some 30 U-M staff and students interested in campus safety, as well as by staff and students at campuses across the country.

A panel of five officials who have dealt with safety at different colleges agreed that while crime rates on campus are about the same as they were five to 10 years ago, they are considerably greater than they were 20 years ago. The reasons? The growing college population, increases in crime nationwide and even more abuse of alcohol.

The panel included Rosalind Andreas, former vice president of student affairs, University of Vermont; Dennis Gregory, assistant vice president for student life, Francis Marion University; Houston attorney Lee Ligget; Yvon McNicoll, past president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators; and Bernie Pleskoff, dean of students, Loyola University, Chicago.

Currently, campus crime reporting is mandated by the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990, which requires colleges receiving federal financial aid to publish annual crime statistics and information about crime prevention programs and procedures.

Last March, Congress began to consider a new act--the Accuracy in Campus Crime Reporting Act (ACCRA) of 1997--which would require colleges also to make daily campus crime logs available to the public.

The introduction of ACCRA was "a splash of cold water--an awakening," admitted Pleskoff, Loyola's dean of campus life. "It forced us to look at campus crime as a major issue on campus."

S. Daniel Carter, vice president of Security on Campus Inc. and a supporter of ACCRA, joined the teleconference from Knoxville, Tenn. Carter argued that ACCRA should be passed by Congress because "one study found that administrators sometimes hide crime on campus because it hurts student recruitment."

Plesskoff and the others on the panel firmly disagreed, noting that any attempt to hide crime was rare. There are difficulties with interpreting the federal guidelines, however. For instance, where does the "campus" begin and end? Are privately owned fraternity houses included? What about university-owned housing several miles off campus?

A March 1997 report from the federal General Accounting Office also noted confusion among colleges, which often are unclear about under which categories to include incidents reported to campus officials other than campus police. They also are uncertain about how to interpret federal requirements for reporting sexual offenses and how to report data on hate crimes.

The greatest problem presented by ACCRA, according to the panel, is how to protect student confidentiality when the criminal incident is also a code of conduct issue. Many students fear reporting crime on campus, particularly sexual assaults, and are unwilling to do so if they believe that the proceedings will become public. Unlike court proceedings, campus judicial proceedings maintain confidentiality.

Carter dismissed that argument, saying that he was concerned that "criminal behavior is being funneled into university judicial systems," where confidentiality is maintained and the public never finds out how the issue was handled or if the proceedings were fair.

He also noted that under the current law licensed counselors can report statistics without using names so that protecting student confidentiality should not impede accurate reporting. Pleskoff noted, however, that if a crime is reported without a name attached, there is a risk of over-reporting because, conceivably, one student could go to a residence adviser, a psychological counselor, a staff person at a rape counseling center, and a security officer, all of whom could be required by ACCRA to report the incident.

Despite their concerns about ACCRA, the panel agreed that the bill was likely to pass and urged public safety and student life officials to let Congress know their concerns so that the final version of the bill would be acceptable to colleges.

Local presentation of the teleconference was sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, the Department of Public Safety, the Office of the General Counsel and University Housing.

Improving security How can campuses improve security? Here are some tips from the teleconference "Protecting Your Campus from Crime: Challenges and Solutions."

  • Be honest and swift in your crime reporting, and provide information to students, prospective students and parents via e-mail, phone and on Web sites.
  • Conduct a campus audit or security assessment with teams that include students, faculty, staff, the dean of students, housing staff and security staff. Tour the campus with a checklist during the day and again at night.
  • Develop a "white paper" and action plan that lists all deficiencies and sets priorities.
  • Educate students about the link between binge drinking and crime; set standards of behavior and uphold them.