Police admit 3 crimes last year classified incorrectly
December 8, 2006
Several on-campus burglaries last year were incorrectly classified as larcenies, a mistake Campus Police plan to correct after The Flat Hat identified inconsistencies in police reports. Federal law requires that colleges submit annual crime statistics — including burglaries but not larcenies — to the U.S. Department of Education.
p. Lieutenant John Coleman said that three reports of items missing from students’ rooms were classified as larcenies but should have been sent to the Department of Education as burglaries.
p. Due to the large number of larcenies that are reported, Campus Police Chief Don Challis was not surprised that there were three mistakes.
p. “There’s a margin of error in everything we do,” he said. “I was pretty sure we’d find some that were mischaracterized.”
p. According to the website of Security on Campus, a non-profit organization that worked with the Department of Education to develop “The Handbook for Campus Crime Reporting,” schools that fail to correctly submit crime data can be fined up to $27,000 by the Department of Education; however, SOC Senior Vice President S. Daniel Carter said schools with incorrect statistics just need to update their data.
p. Coleman said he plans to update the 2005 data and go through previous years’ crime reports to check for other mistakes. If he finds any, he will correct them and resubmit the data to the Department of Education.
p. “[There] probably are some [statistics] that need to be cleaned up in our system, but the fact of the matter is, nobody’s trying to underreport anything,” he said.
p. The mistakes stem from differences in the way the state and federal governments define burglary. The SOC handbook defines burglary under the Clery Act, a federal law requiring colleges and universities to submit annual crime data to the Department of Education, as “the unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or a theft.” The first burglary example the handbook lists is “A student living in an on-campus residence hall room with other students reports an item missing from his room.”
p. Carter said that if the student’s room is unlocked and the person who stole the item is unknown, the crime should be classified as a burglary. If the missing item was stolen by someone who had a legal right to be there, like a roommate, the crime should be classified as a larceny. And if lawful entry cannot be proven, the crime should be classified as a burglary.
p. The three mistakes involve items missing from students’ rooms where lawful entry could not be proven. A student reported May 18, 2005, that golf clubs were taken from his room. Coleman said that because it could not be proven whether or not the clubs were taken by somebody who had a legal right to be there, the crime should have been classified as a burglary instead of a larceny.
p. In previous years Coleman submitted the same data to the state and to the Department of Education, but sometimes changes need to be made due to the way burglary is defined under the Clery Act.
p. “In the future, I plan to look specifically before submitting to Clery,” he said, adding that Campus Police underwent additional training recently on correctly classifying burglaries.
p. According to SOC’s website, the Clery Act seeks to standardize the way colleges disclose crime information. It requires colleges that participate in federal financial aid to submit annual crime data to the Department of Education, including reports of criminal homicide, sex offenses, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft and arson. According to the Oct. 23 online edition of the Wall Street Journal, the House of Representatives voted twice to include larcenies in the data, but both times the Senate version of the bill was adopted and did not include that provision.
p. The act also requires that the statistics be public. The College posts them on its website.
p. Last year, the College reported 14 on-campus burglaries. According to the dispatcher log statistics, which were likely altered later for correctness before submission, 199 larcenies were reported last year.
p. As of Dec. 3 this year, the dispatcher logs have recorded 167 larcenies and 7 burglaries. Five students reported items missing from their rooms; three of those reports were recorded as larcenies and two were recorded as burglaries. Coleman will review them for proper classification before submission.
p. The Oct. 23 online edition of the Wall Street Journal reported that there is a large difference between the number of larcenies at institutions of higher education compared to the number of burglaries. The College was cited as a school with what the Journal called “lopsided” statistics.
p. In the Nov. 3 edition of The Flat Hat, Vice President for Student Affairs Sam Sadler rejected the idea that the College skews its crime statistics. “We’re not hiding anything. I think anybody who knows anything about this place knows that,” he said.
p. He pointed out that the Campus Police send all reported crimes, including larcenies, to The Flat Hat to be printed in the Police Beat.
p. Overall, Campus Police Chief Challis was content with the way the College reports crime statistics and with the relatively low number of mistakes.
p. “If we have a burglary, that’s what we call it,” he said.