Criminal activity rising on campus

Rebecca Carton

In 1986, a Lehigh University freshman by the name of Jeanne Clery was raped and murdered in her dorm room.

After her death, her parents discovered through court procedures the university had a history of violent crimes. The 38 violent crimes that occurred in the three years prior to Clery’s death were not made public to students or their families.

Howard and Connie Clery, Jeanne’s parents, decided to educate other families about crimes on campus. In the years after their daughter’s death, the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act has been put into place.

S. Daniel Carter, senior vice president of Security on Campus Inc., said the Clery Act is vitally important to the safety of campuses nationwide.

“In simple terms, campuses are safer than they were before the Clery Act,” Carter said. “Prior to the Clery Act, campus security was not really an issue. There had not been a thoughtful review or discussion of protecting students from conventional crimes.”

According to the Clery Act, U.S. colleges and universities must disclose campus crime information annually. The act was originally put into law as the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990. The law underwent amendments in 1998 and was renamed in memory of Jeanne Clery.

Carter said the Clerys wanted to make other families realize that college campuses sometimes give a false sense of security.

“The Clery Act makes sure that students and other members of the community know that crimes do happen, making sure that people can make informed decisions about their safety,” Carter said.

ISU Director of Public Safety Jerry Stewart said a number of aspects are involved in complying with the Clery Act.

“It also pertains to descriptions of departments and services and how to contact them,” he said. “The crime statistics are just a part of the requirement.”

Iowa State’s campus crime report was made available to the public Sept. 24. The report includes statistics from the past three years on crime that took place on campus, in noncampus buildings and public property. Crimes included in the report include violent crimes such as murder, sex offenses, burglary, arson and hate crimes. Also included are the arrests for liquor, drug and weapon law violations.

Stewart said although the statistics released indicate the number of crimes reported, it is not representative of all crime in the area.

“The Clery Act requires that campus agencies define geographic areas for reporting crime,” he said. “They do not include all crime statistics. The Clery stats are always less than the total.”

In order to give the public a more complete view of crime, the department of public safety also releases a chart of annual statistics. These annual statistics go beyond the geographic constraints the Clery Act defines.

“We publish both to give a more accurate picture,” Stewart said.

While the report focuses on campus crime, ISU Police Cmdr. Gene Deisinger believes the report does not solely affect students.

“It’s not just for students, it’s for community members as well,” he said. “It is a requirement to provide a synopsis of crime activity on campus and areas adjacent to campus.”

Stewart agreed.

“It is important for community members to be aware of crime that typically occurs in their living and working area,” he said.

Stewart also said the report is “an opportunity for us to convey information about helpful services.” Some of the services DPS provides include safety escorts and sexual assault response teams.

Although the statistics give students, faculty, staff and community members an idea of how many crimes occurred in the past, Deisinger does not believe the numbers by themselves are reliable indicators of crime.

“Numbers have limited utility by themselves,” Deisinger said.

Deisinger said there are a multitude of different reasons as to why changes in frequency of a crime would occur.

“Is it due to more events? More reports? More officers available? The data by itself doesn’t give us those answers,” he said.

According to the most recent report, forcible sex offenses, burglary and arson have all increased in or around campus within the past three years. Ten forcible sex offenses were reported in 2006 alone; eight of which were on campus property. Forty-two reports of burglary were reported in 2006, compared to 31 in 2004. Eleven reports of arson took place in 2006, all of which were on campus.

Deisinger said an increase in numbers does not necessarily mean an increase in crime.

“I caution against people drawing conclusions from the numbers without looking at a multitude of causes for the changes or lack thereof,” Deisinger said.

Although Deisinger does not encourage belief in increased crime when reading increases in the statistics, he said it is a good way to start conversations about deterring crime.

“We make a good-faith effort to document all of the crime in the report, hoping that the data facilitates discussion,” he said.

Stewart said the department uses both the Clery statistics and the annual statistics to look for trends in crime on a continual basis. The Clery Act aids in looking for trends because it helps locate crime that is geographically based.

“We look for trends and try to determine causation to distribute personnel accordingly,” Stewart said.

Stewart also said crimes such as criminal mischief have been “remarkably constant” over the years.

Deisinger said although the Clery Act has good intentions, it is not always possible to tell if crime is increasing or decreasing based on the numbers given.

“The spirit of the Clery Act is well in providing meaningful information about the presence of crime where students go to study,” he said. “The challenge is to look at the data and draw conclusions from what they mean by themselves.”