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Annual campus crime report may not tell true story of student crime

  • Reece Ristau & Cristina Woodworth
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Federal funding guidelines have required the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to publish annual crime logs since 1990, but students and police administrators say the reports don’t always tell the whole story.

Many like Scott Speicher, a senior biological systems engineering major, say incidences of drug and alcohol use and even sexual assault on campus continue to go unreported. A 2010 study by the Center for Public Integrity indicated that 95 percent of rapes on college campuses aren’t reported to police.

In 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed into law the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, nicknamed the Clery Act. Its creation was prompted by the 1986 murder and rape of Jeanne Clery, a freshman at Lehigh University. The crime was committed in her dorm room.

The act requires public and private universities to publish annual crime logs, along with other public safety-related items. But the guidelines set forth by the Clery Act aren’t always clear. Only select crimes make it into the reports, and they must have occurred on or in close proximity to campus. This would exclude many off-campus apartments and homes of UNL students. Because of the rules set by the Clery Act, questions have arisen if crime rates on campuses are legitimate.

Because UNL is federally funded, the Clery Act determines how campus police reports crimes.

Michael Maas, the compliance and accreditation manager for University Police, said that while the Clery Act is complicated, he doesn’t believe it affects crime rate accuracy.

“There are so many things that can affect the numbers,” Maas said. “If you’ve got a major event with more people on campus or if (UNLPD) is working to reduce a certain crime, the numbers can change.”

Maas said as an example, the Clery Act will change next year because of the authorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

UNL has made attempts to get more information to students and encourage them to report crimes, Maas said. Students can register for UNL Alert, a mass notification system that sends text messages and emails to students, alerting them of emergencies of campus.

On Oct. 1, the Annual Campus Crime & Fire Safety Report will give students an overview of everything personal-safety related, how to report and what to do if you’re a victim. It covers everything the Clery Act mandates, Maas said.

Even with these attempts to reach out to students, some simply don’t report crimes.

A senior advertising and public relations major who preferred not to be named said he has seen things near campus that should have been reported.

“I was in the Brass Rail and went to the bathroom and saw someone passed out in a stall on the floor,” the student said. “And then I left.”

The student said in the heat of the moment, he was only looking out for himself and assumed someone else would take care of it.

Other students, though, said if they saw anything serious happen on campus they would certainly report it.

“I would call university police for sure if I saw something major happening,” Speicher said.

Speicher said he understands why UNL students wouldn’t be too eager to report what many see as minor offenses such as underage drinking or marijuana possession.

“There were some kids my freshman year that lived across the hall who smoked weed all the time,” said Speicher, who lived in Neihardt his first year at UNL. “I didn’t want to report them, though, because it seemed really petty, and I didn’t want to live with that tension the rest of the year with them knowing I was the one who turned them in.”

Speicher said underage drinking is another offense that most students probably don’t report.

“If I really wanted to report every minor that I saw drinking in college, it would certainly take a lot of effort,” Speicher said. “I would have to be really committed, and I would be reporting people every weekend.”

Maas said the Clery Act has its place at UNL, despite some skepticism about it.

“It’s needed so you get the information out there,” he said. “It makes the university do as much as possible to keep safety.”


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