All six of the California colleges and universities visited by the state auditor inaccurately reported campus crime statistics as required by the federal Clery Act, a new report shows.
The report, from California State Auditor Elaine M. Howle, shows that the six colleges also failed to comply with other aspects of the law. One failed to produce a required annual security report, while others didn't adequately distribute the report to students and the community. Check out an executive summary here.
The Clery Act requires college campuses to annually collect and report statistics on certain types of crimes that occur on or near campus. To do that, campuses have to consult their own campus incident reports and get statistics from local law enforcement on crimes that happened within very specific off-campus areas.
The audit found that some colleges under-reported crimes, while others actually over-reported them. The findings suggest the whole purpose of the security reports – as a means for students and parents to get an accurate picture of campus crime and compare it to other similar colleges – isn't being fulfilled.
Auditors visited six campuses – Fresno State University, Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Ohlone College in Fremont, UC Riverside, Western Career College in Sacramento, and Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona.
Four campuses under-reported crimes: Ohlone left out two sex offenses and one motor vehicle theft. Mt. San Antonio omitted one motor vehicle theft. Riverside did not include one sex offense, and Western Career College left out an incident of arson and a vehicle theft.
The two other schools over-reported the number of crimes that occured on public property because they asked local police for information on crimes in areas near campus that are not covered by the Clery Act. The law only covers the streets and sidewalks directly bordering the campus, plus the parking lots adjacent to and accessible from the campus.
Ohlone, for example, reported stats on crimes within a one-mile radius of campus, while Mt. San Antonio included a nearby shopping center in its reporting.
The other interesting finding in the audit was that the California Community College Chancellor's Office should provide more guidance to its campuses about how to comply with the Clery Act. Auditors visited 10 colleges that reported having no crimes. Six of them were community colleges. They found in several cases that officials at the colleges weren't taking the required steps to make sure they had an accurate count.
Officials at Palo Verde Community College, Lake Tahoe Community College and West Hills Community College (Lemoore), for example, didn't know that they were supposed to gather information from local law enforcement about crimes.
"We have some work to do,” the West Hills dean of students acknowledged, according to the audit.
The potential consequences of violating the Clery Act can be serious. The U.S. Department of Education may impose a fine of up to $27,500 for each violation by any institution that receives federal financial aid funding.
The audit comes a few months after UC Davis revealed it had significantly over-reported the number of forcible sex offenses on and around campus from 2005 to 2007, based on internal and external reviews of the crime statistics.
UC Davis determined that the former director of its Campus Violence Prevention Program, Jennifer Beeman, was responsible for the inflated figures, which more than doubled the actual number of sex offenses each year.
Because of the inaccurate reporting, the U.S. Department of Justice began looking into whether UC Davis had appropriately earned more than $1 million in grants for violence prevention, the Sacramento Bee reported.
The inaccuracies hint at larger problems, issues that the Center for Public Integrity explored in great detail in a recent investigation into sexual assault on campus. One of the Center's stories focused on the "limitations and loopholes" that cause problems in documenting the numbers of campus-related sexual assaults. Add to that the confusion over how to comply with the Clery Act and you've got annual security reports that provide a pretty murky picture of actual crime.