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Campus Crime Statistics: Mixed Results

There was some good news and some bad news in the U.S. Department of Education's extensive review of the University's crime-reporting procedures. The good news was that Penn's system of reporting crimes on campus, based on a definition of "on campus" that had been criticized as overly narrow, was deemed valid by the DOE under the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990 -- and that there was thus no evidence of a systematic coverup of campus crime. The bad news was that there were "several areas where the University needs to improve its compliance with the requirements of the Act," as the DOE put it in a letter to Dr. Judith Rodin, CW'66, president of the University. As a result, the letter added, Penn needs to take "corrective action" to bring itself into full compliance. The University has promised to do so.
   The mixed results were reflected in the wildly different headlines of two local newspapers. "Govt. upholds U.'s crime
Illustration by David McLimans spacer
reporting method," read the banner headline of the February 10 Daily Pennsylvanian. But The Philadelphia Inquirer's headline the same day was: "U.S. agency faults Penn's crime reporting."
   The Inquirer had first raised questions about Penn's crime-reporting system back in November 1996, noting that crimes occurring in, say, the Food Court on Walnut Street (across the street from Van Pelt Library) were not considered campus crimes -- and thus not reported -- while a crime occurring directly upstairs, in the offices occupied by Penn, was considered on-campus. As a result, only about 10 percent of the crimes that occur in Penn's patrol area -- which extends from the Schuylkill River to 43rd Street, and from Market Street south to Baltimore Avenue -- are reported as "on-campus" crimes. (The full range of local crimes is published in the DP and in Almanac, Penn's journal of record.)
   But Penn's administration has long argued that the 1990 act was designed more for suburban and rural campuses that have no public streets running through them. And the DOE's report vindicates the University's definition of "campus" for crime-reporting purposes -- although Tom Seamon, Penn's managing director of public safety, said that the act itself "needs to be amended."
   "The most important conclusion is that they found no evidence that the University was hiding anything or distorting campus crime," said Rodin. "The very positive outcome of this audit will be a much more textured view of the difference between an urban and rural campus and maybe a somewhat different set of guidelines for each." Rodin added that the University intends to comply with all the DOE's recommendations, and that "their interests and our interests are aligned." Penn has 30 days to tell the DOE what steps it has taken to remedy the problems.
   The DOE's report was based on an extensive review of Penn's crime statistics from 1994, 1995, and 1996. The violations included:

Not reporting in its 1994 statistics a rape in a dormitory that had been reported to the director of victim support and special services in November of that year. The report noted that during this past summer, the University itself had concluded that the incident "should have been included in the 1994 crime statistics." (The victim of the rape has filed a federal lawsuit against Penn for failing to protect her and for not including the incident in its annual report.) The DOE's report also faulted Penn for not including eight separate violations of state liquor laws, all involving underage drinking.

Failing to show separate statistics for the New Bolton Center and the Morris Arboretum, which meet the federal definition of separate campuses.

Failing to include statistics for the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, despite a University memorandum from 1993 directing that those statistics -- as well as those from the New Bolton Center and the Morris Arboretum -- be included. The report found "numerous incidents of crime which occurred at HUP during calendar years 1994, 1995, and 1996."

Failing to notify all prospective students of the availability of the Campus Security Report. Although Kenneth Wildes, director of University communications, said that Penn had sent out 73,000 letters telling prospective undergraduate applicants that the statistics were available -- and another 15,000 brochures containing the actual statistics to applicants -- the DOE faulted the University for not including them with its application packages. It also noted that for a number of Penn's schools, the primary means of disseminating crime information to prospective students is through the schools' Web sites -- which "does not constitute active notice."

Failing to provide the Campus Security Report to all current students.

Not including "hate-crime" statistics in the campus security report. Then again, no hate crimes were reported in that three-year time period.


   "These are obviously problems that must be addressed," opined the DP in an editorial. The University, the editorial concluded, "should follow the spirit, not just the letter, of the law in reporting crime stats."

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Copyright 1998 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 3/11/98