On April 5, 1986, Lehigh University freshman Jeanne Clery was, according to police reports, beaten, tortured, sodomized, raped and strangled in her own dorm room by another Lehigh student. No one had told Jeanne’s parents or the parents of her many classmates about the 38 violent crimes that had happened on the campus in the three years before her death.
Driven by the notion that having that information might have lead them to make different decisions, Jeanne’s parents fought to get a federal law passed that would require colleges to keep security logs and to file annual crime statistics reports for their campuses. The “Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990” is most commonly known as The Clery Act.
The College VOICE has carefully examined Mercer’s annual Clery reports going back for the last three years, compared that data against our own reports on campus crimes and local police records, and has determined that the data the college has been submitting to the Department of Education has been inaccurate for years.The problems in Mercer’s crime data reporting include five basic violations:
1. The data is not posted on time
2. The data for the two campuses is combined
3. Proper geography is not covered
4. Data from local law enforcement is omitted
5. Data from campus records is omitted
Not Submitting Reports to the Community On Time
In terms of timeliness, Mercer is obliged to make its annual reports on October 1. VOICE staffers requested the data on the first of the month but were told it was not yet available. The 2011 security report was ultimately posted online on October 5, but was (and as of press deadline still is) inaccurately labeled “2012.”
Why the delay? In an interview with The VOICE, Mercer’s President, Dr. Patricia Donohue, said, “I have to sign off on it before it’s filed, before it becomes an official record.”
Commanding Security Officer Michael Flaherty said that while the law does not require anyone to sign off on the security report before it’s filed, he submitted it to the president and vice president to “make sure they’re aware of it.”
Erroneously Combining Two Campuses’ Data
When a college has more than one campus, data has to be compiled for each campus separately. On page 15, the current Clery Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting, a document compiled by the Department of Education to help colleges understand and meet their Clery obligations, it reads as follows:
“If your institution has more than one campus, each campus must comply independently with all of the Clery Act and the fire- and safety-related HEA requirements as described in this handbook. For the purpose of these requirements, consider an additional location a separate campus if it meets all of the following criteria:
– Your institution owns or controls the site;
– It is not reasonably geographically contiguous with the main campus;
– It has an organized program of study; and
– There is at least one person on site acting in an administrative capacity.”
On the Department of Education’s website there are listings for both the James Kerney and West Windsor campuses (the data for these listings is identical for the last three years, zeros across the board). But Mercer’s own PDF filings do not differentiate between the two. Although Security Chief Flaherty did say he had received Clery training, he also told The VOICE that the report posted on Mercer’s website is for both campuses.
Failing to Cover Correct Geographical Area
According to the law, colleges are responsible for reporting crimes that take place on campus property. The Clery Handbook devotes pages and pages to explaining how a college must determine what counts as their property, explaining each possibility in detail. Does a study abroad on a campus in India count? No. Does the college’s parking lot count, even if it is leased from another entity? Yes. Does the coffee shop across the street, the one that students go to all the time, count? No.
The handbook is very clear, however that the geography of the college includes “the public sidewalk, street, and opposite sidewalk along all four borders of the campus.” The sidewalks are crucial to understanding Mercer’s misreporting, since many of the incidents omitted from the reports occurred on the street just outside of the James Kerney Campus.
Mercer’s Security Chief Flaherty, however, told The VOICE that colleges are not responsible for reporting what happens on the sidewalk across the street. He said, “It has to be adjacent [to campus]. If it occurs across the street and it’s not our property then it’s reported by the municipalities. If I don’t report on it, the Trenton police will, so we’re covered on both ends,” he said.
While all of the crimes reported on Clery are also reported to the police, and investigated by them, the college is still responsible for reporting the crime if it occurred within its own geographic perimeter.
Omitting Data from Outside Law Enforcement
The Clery Act uses a broad interpretation of what must be counted. Generally speaking, schools must err on the side of caution. This point is underscored in the Clery Handbook when it says, “You must disclose reported offenses, not the findings of a court, coroner or jury or the decision of a prosecutor. Classify and count crimes from the records of calls for service, complaints and investigations.”
Thus, even reports that do not lead to an arrest or trial must still be counted. The broad scope of the law is clear in that it does not require that a crime be seen to completion to count. The Clery Handbook reads, “Do not differentiate between attempted and completed crimes…The only exception to this rule applies to attempts or assaults to murder when the victim does not die.”
However, most of these crimes are not counted by Clery either because they do not fall within our geographic area of inclusion or because they are types of crime Clery doesn’t consider, such as simple assault or theft of property from within a motor vehicle. The VOICE went through dozens of crimes with the Trenton Police Department, ruling out all but those that occurred either on campus property on on the sidewalks on either side of the street surrounding campus property.
For example, the arson that occurred across the street at the Trenton Crisis Ministry does not count because it is not our building. And even though we lease space from the Daylight/Twilight high school, we are not obliged to report the arrests made there in which a female student was slapped on the buttocks while trying to exercise in the gym, or another student hit someone in the face allegedly without provocation, or a student smashed a glass display case with his fist. Those do not go in Mercer’s report.
The college is obliged, however, to report the robbery, the motor vehicle theft, the two aggravated assaults, the hate crime and the four drug possession arrests that were made on campus property or exterior property immediately adjacent to it during the last three years. Yet, with one exception, none of this data appears on Mercer’s Clery reports.
Omitting Data from Campus Incidents
While the complexities of the law including the geographic designations may have contributed to misreporting of some data, it does not explain failing to report crimes that were reported on campus and which were covered extensively in the local newspapers and The VOICE.
For example, former Mercer Professor of Psychology, Matthew Giobbi, was robbed at knife point in the college parking lot on February, 7, 2011. The robbery does appear in Mercer’s reports –the only non-zero number reported for three years– but does not appear on the Department of Education’s information, suggesting either an error in their input of data or that the college did not ensure the DOE had the correct numbers.
Another incident that took place on the West Windsor campus should also have been reported but appears neither on the campus report nor the DOE website. On August 30, 2011, an African American student, Adrian Edwards, was alleged to have assaulted a student named Vincenzo Campo, who was wearing a Nazi uniform. Mercer security was called as were the police. As reported in The VOICE, the police classified this as simple assault, a crime that would not generally be included in Clery reports unless it was also a hate crime. In the police report the crime was credited to “Bias Intimidation.”
Would assaulting Campo because he appeared to be a white supremacist count as a hate crime under Clery? According to The VOICE’s legal advisors, it is a something of a gray area, but likely it would, particularly because the law insists colleges err on the side of caution.
The Clery Handbook says, “A hate crime is a criminal offense committed against a person or property which is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias. Bias is a preformed negative opinion or attitude toward a group of persons based on their race, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation or ethnicity/national origin.”
In the Campo case, race seems to have been the motivating factor. Clery defines racial bias as: “Race: A preformed negative attitude toward a group of persons who possess common physical characteristics (e.g., color of skin, eyes, and/or hair; facial features, etc.) genetically transmitted by descent and heredity, which distinguish them as a distinct division of humankind (e.g., Asians, blacks, whites).”
The handbook is clear that whites are included and in this case, Campo’s appearance as a white supremacist combined with the police report referring to the incident as “bias intimidation” should have indicated that this was a hate crime by Clery standards.
This is not the first time that Mercer has not been in compliance with the act. In the May 8, 2006 edition of The VOICE, it was reported that the daily security logs were not being properly updated.
When asked to comment about the college’s Clery Act data, Jose Fernandez, Executive Director for Human Resources and Compliance, told The VOICE to speak to Security Chief Flaherty.
Although Flaherty’s office is tasked with compiling the data, it should be noted that the Mercer’s failure to report accurate Clery data dates back far before Flaherty became chief in 2011 and that he reports to Bryon Marshall, Director of College Safety, who would not speak to The VOICE despite repeated requests for comment.
The Clery Act states that the Department of Education “can issue civil fines up to 27,500 dollars per violation substantial misrepresentation of the number, location or nature of the crimes required to be reported or for a violation of any other provision of the safety- and security-related HEA regulations.”
So far the largest fine ever imposed for Clery violations was $357,000 against Eastern Michigan University, but Penn State may face fines into the millions of dollars for failing to report campus crime, including the child sex abuse reports that were revealed during the trial of Jerry Sandusky. If the Department of Education investigates Mercer, fines could exceed $200,000.