Colleges, Universities May Be Underreporting Crime

WASHINGTON – Universities all across the nation may be underreporting crimes, federal regulators say.

Since the passing of the Clery Act in 1990, all universities and colleges that participate in federal financial aid programs must disclose campus crime statistics to the U.S. Department of Education.

However, the Clery Act’s exclusion of larcenies permits some schools to misidentify burglaries as larcenies in order to avoid reporting the full number of campus thefts. The burglary tally is reported to the Department of Education, while the larceny tally is reported separately to the FBI.

Furthermore, some say other crimes are also being misrepresented in the annual crime reports. The most prominent of these is sexual assault, which the Security on Campus nonprofit watchdog group says is being underreported at many schools, even at some of the most prestigious, such as Yale University.

Schools underreporting their crime statistics are motivated in large part by the desire to attract safety-conscious prospective students.

The Department of Education is now investigating allegations of intentional misreporting at several universities and colleges, including West Virginia University (WVU). Three WVU police officers filed a lawsuit against supervisors who allegedly retaliated against them after the officers claimed campus burglaries were being misclassified as larcenies on incident reports. The court sided with the police officers, but the university denies changing incident reports and says that it is cooperating with the Department of Education.

Within the last eight years, the House of Representatives twice voted to categorize larceny as a type of burglary. The Senate, however, passed versions of the bill without the stipulation. The American Council on Education and the American Association of Community Colleges, both higher education associations, have been identified by staffers involved in the Clery Act negotiations as being instrumental in removing the larceny-as-burglary amendment.

The FBI states that larcenies occur three to four times more often than burglaries, but some schools report statistics that indicate an exaggerated disparity, such as Rice University, the College of William and Mary and Northeastern University. These schools reported burglary-to-larceny ratios of one-to-149, three-to-334 and five-to-345, respectively.

Some schools, such as the University of Southern California, claim that these ratios are a natural result of a campus’ unique environment, which makes it easier to commit acts of larceny rather than burglary.

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