Questions raised on lack of clarity in crime reporting

Over the summer and since the beginning of the school year the college community has received four Timely Warning Notices from Public Safety, two about burglaries on campus, and the other two about an incident of fondling at Olde Club involving a person outside of the college community.

These Timely Warning Notices are in accordance with the Clery Act. Signed by George H. W. Bush in 1990, the law’s passing was in response to the murder of Lehigh University student Jeanne Clery in 1986 and the issue of unreported incidents on college campuses that the case exposed.

Since the passing of the Clery Act, colleges participating in federal financial aid programs have been required to keep detailed statistics and data on any crimes committed on their campuses, and each year the college is expected to release an Annual Security Report. This report, released each year by Oct 1, contains statistics for crimes committed on and around campus from the past three years, as well as statements on school policy and services related to campus security.

The college released its Annual Security Report on time this year on October 1. However, the college has not had a perfect record with the Clery Act. In 2013, twelve students filed a complaint with the US government accusing the college of mishandling sexual assault cases and violating both Title IX and the Clery Act. This complaint made national headlines in papers such as the New York Times and the Huffington Post, and Swarthmore became one of many other campuses around the country facing problems regarding sexual assaults on campus. The president of the college at the time, Rebecca Chopp, made clear that the college would reevaluate its sexual assault policy and its adherence to the Clery Act.

The recent shooting threats have reopened questions about the college’s policies on crime transparency on campus, as well as the college’s policy in regards to Timely Warning Notices.

According to the Annual Fire Safety and Security Report, Swarthmore policy regarding Timely Warning Notices is as follows: “the College will issue a Timely Warning Notice in the event that it receives notice of an alleged Clery Crime occurring on campus, on public property within or immediately adjacent to the campus.”

These “Clery Crimes” were defined later in the report as being any of these criminal offenses: “homicide, sex offenses (rape, fondling, incest and statutory rape), robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, arson, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking and hate crimes, as defined by the Clery Act.”

The report goes on to clarify that the director of public safety is responsible for choosing when to issue a Timely Warning Notice, and that “for purposes of this policy, ‘timely’ means as soon as reasonably practical after an incident has been reported to the Department of Public Safety or the Campus Security Authorities identified by Swarthmore College, or local police agencies that have concurrent jurisdiction have reported the information to the College.”

Michael Hill also clarified the type of report that was issued for the Philadelphia school shooting threat.

“There are three types,” Hill explains. “Timely Warning Notices, which the policy will explain in detail but essentially refer to Clery Act crimes; Emergency Notifications, which pertain to unsafe conditions that may pose a safety concern such as a natural gas leak or a building fire; and Awareness Bulletins, which do not rise to the level of a safety concern but refer to a situation I would like the community to be aware of.”

The notification sent to the campus community about the Philadelphia shooting threat was classified as an Awareness Bulletin, and therefore is not covered under the jurisdiction of the Clery Act or any of the policy related to Timely Warning Notices.

However, the disclaimer found at the bottom of every Timely Warning Notice sent by Public Safety reads: “Not every instance of a Clery crime represents a continuing threat to the community and therefore Timely Warning Notices are not issued in every instance of a Clery crime on or near the campus.” Only incidents on or near campus that Public Safety considers to pose a further danger to the student body are reported as Timely Warning Notices, the best example being the fondling incident earlier this year where the culprit had not been identified.

This policy is accounted for in the Annual Security Report, which reads: “The reason why the College does or does not issue a Timely Warning Notice for any Clery Crime reported to the College will be documented on the Timely Warning Determination form.” The report goes on to explain that this information will be kept by the college and will be included in the individual incident reports disclosed to the federal Department of Education.

Although every instance of a Clery crime that happens on campus can be found as raw data in the Annual Security Report (last year’s data and report can be found online), the individual incident reports are not published by the college, nor is every incident reported to the student body via e-mail when it occurs.

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