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Letter to the Editor: Making sense of the annual SIU safety report

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(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

TNS

TNS

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

By Jennifer A. Brobst

How many of your friends at SIU were arrested last year? How many were victims of crime?

You may not know anyone who fits this description, but SIU, like every college campus in America, will have students, staff and faculty each year whose unfortunate experiences serve as indicators of the school’s safety climate. By federal law, under the Jeanne Clery Act of 1990, every university accepting federal funds must monitor campus crime statistics and publicly report them.

This year, the SIU annual safety report is 170 pages long and was just released at the end of September. I’ve learned to skim to the back of the report to find the table with the numbers (see for yourself from page 139). I also know, having over 20 years of a career that focuses on violent crime and its causes, that the reported numbers will never reflect the true actual numbers.

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We know this, of course, because criminality and its aftermath are often committed and coped with in secret. Also keep in mind that the help sought may not be from campus services or officials, but from friends, family, off-campus services or never reported to anyone at all.

MORE: Crime at SIU stayed about the same from 2014 to 2015, Clery report shows

The Clery Act was enacted out of a sense of outrage that campuses could tell prospective students and alumni all was well and no reports meant no crime. Anyone working in the field, particularly agencies with crisis hotlines that protect anonymity, could readily explain how wrong that assumption of safety was.

But does a Clery annual safety report make you feel less safe? More safe? Do you read it? If you do read it, what does it really tell you? Let me try to make some sense of this report, at least from my perspective.

First, looking at one year’s statistics on murder, aggravated assault, robbery, arson, rape, forced fondling, firearm possession, alcohol and drug use – well, it doesn’t tell you much in isolation. You need context. You want to know if this is a particularly unsafe year. So the Annual Safety Report at SIU will give you three years in a row to add context and this is what this year’s report tells us:

CRIMES REPORTED AT SIU

(by incident number)

2013 2014 2015
Homicide 0 0 0
Aggravated Assault 9 7 5
Rape 4 13 13
Forcible Fondling 3 3 7
Robbery 3 1 0
Burglary 27 40 40
Motor Vehicle Theft 3 0 3
Arson 3 0 0
Stalking 20 34 32
Domestic Violence/Dating Violence 55 27 28
Hate Crime 0 1 (racial) 0
Liquor Law Arrests 82 151 165
Drug Law Arrests 106 120 112
Illegal Weapons Possession 9 4 0

 

But that doesn’t tell you much if you’re not sure if those numbers are normal for college life across the United States. It helps to compare schools. I picked two very different schools from SIU to get a sense of what our numbers might mean.

Lewis & Clark College is a small private liberal arts college in the outskirts of Portland, Oregon (see page 56) and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is a large flagship public university in a middle class suburban area (see page 36).

All three have large dormitory populations and both undergraduate and graduate schools, but only UNC and SIU have a Greek system and major athletic programs. SIU has more male students than female, but UNC and Lewis & Clark have more female than male students.

CRIMES REPORTED
(by incident number)
2013 2014 2015
SIU UNC L&C SIU UNC L&C SIU UNC L&C
Homicide 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Aggravated Assault 9 7 0 7 6 0 5 10 0
Rape 4 * * 13 26 6 13 21 5
Forcible Fondling 3 19 12 3 6 4 7 9 3
Robbery 3 3 0 1 4 0 0 6 0
Burglary 27 28 6 40 44 4 40 25 4
Motor Vehicle Theft 3 10 1 0 11 2 3 32 0
Arson 3 1 0 0 1 2 0 0 0
Stalking 20 14 0 34 9 1 32 35 4
Domestic Violence/Dating Violence 55 11 0 27 11 1 28 33 2
Hate Crime 0 0 3 1 (racial) 0 1 0 0 6
Liquor Law Arrests** 82 60 20 151 83 7 165 50 0
Drug Law Arrests 106 77 6 120 86 4 112 112 1
Illegal Weapons Possession Arrests 9 6 0 4 5 0 0 4 0

 

UNC and Lewis & Clark combined rape and forced fondling numbers in 2013, per VAWA reporting requirements regarding forcible sexual assault.

All three schools cited significant numbers of liquor and drug disciplinary referrals that never reached the arrest stage.

Also note that although Oregon has legalized marijuana for persons 21 and older, Lewis & Clark College’s own policies prohibit marijuana on campus.

Still confused?

Do low numbers mean a school looks the other way or that it’s actually a safer environment? Who knows?

Do high numbers mean students trust their school and are proactive in taking advantage of the official reporting process or does it mean that it’s a scarier place to get an education? Again, I don’t think there’s any way to really know. But there’s one more way to look at these numbers, because the way the Clery Act requests its reports does not really help the consumer.

We need to know the rates of incidents of crime per student, rather than mere numbers, because as a campus UNC is a small city (29,084 students in 2015) compared to the town of SIU (17, 292 in 2015) or the little village of Lewis & Clark (3,526 students in 2015).

If we recalculate these incident numbers per student enrolled, then the table finally begins to make more sense. You may also see patterns for the first time.

If a school does not take sufficient action to curb excessive drinking, then what do the sexual violence numbers look like? If a school has high physical assault numbers, then what do the weapons possession numbers look like? If a campus is small in size, is it easier for campus police to prevent car thefts or when you look at the rates does it make no difference at all?

As you’ll see below, it makes no difference at all.

I can say that the trend in burglary rates at SIU is not comforting because burglary tends to be openly reported. In contrast, the domestic violence rate increase at SIU probably indicates more willingness to report rather than an increase in violence on campus based on what we know about the prevalence of this crime. Mandatory arrest laws for domestic violence are meant to help those suffering in silence, but sometimes it makes victims more hesitant to report.

CRIME REPORTS

(incidence, followed by incidence per student enrolled)

2013 2014 2015
 Enrollment SIU

17,964

UNC

29,127

L&C

3,500

SIU

17,989

UNC

29,135

L&C

3,504

SIU

17,292

UNC

29,084

L&C

3,526

Homicide 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Aggravated Assault 9

0.050

7

0.024

0

0.000

7

0.039

6

0.021

0

0.00

5

0.029

10

0.034

0

0.00

Rape 4

0.022

* * 13

0.072

26

0.089

6

0.17

13

0.075

21

0.072

5

0.14

Forcible Fondling 3

0.017

19

0.065

12

0.343

3

0.012

6

0.020

4

0.114

7

0.041

9

0.031

3

0.085

Robbery 3

0.017

3

0.010

0

0.000

1

0.006

4

0.014

0

0.000

0

0.000

6

0.021

0

0.000

Burglary 27

0.015

28

0.096

6

0.171

40

0.222

44

0.151

4

0.114

40

0.231

25

0.086

4

0.113

Motor Vehicle Theft 3

0.017

10

0.034

1

0.029

0

0.000

11

0.038

2

0.057

3

0.017

32

0.110

0

0.000

Arson 3

0.017

1

0.003

0

0.000

0

0.000

1

0.003

2

0.057

0

0.000

0

0.000

0

0.000

Stalking 20

0.011

14

0.048

0

0.000

34

0.189

9

0.031

1

0.029

32

0.185

35

0.120

4

0.113

Domestic Violence/Dating Violence 55

0.306

11

0.004

0

0.000

27

0.150

11

0.038

1

0.029

28

0.162

33

0.114

2

0.057

Hate Crime 0

0.00

0

0.000

3

0.086

1

0.006

0

0.000

1

0.029

0

0.000

0

0.000

6

0.170

Liquor Law Arrests 82

0.457

60

0.206

20

0.571

151

0.839

83

0.285

7

0.200

165

0.954

50

0.172

0

0.000

Drug Law Arrests 106

0.590

77

0.264

6

0.171

120

0.667

86

0.295

4

0.114

112

0.648

112

0.385

1

0.028

Illegal Weapons Possession Arrests 9

0.050

6

0.021

0

0.000

4

0.022

5

0.017

0

0.000

0

0.000

4

0.0138

0

0.000

 

Schools with more incidents reported may be more responsive to student complaints.

I worry about colleges and universities with low numbers, because I suspect there are typical concerns with student, faculty and staff behavior on campus wherever you go — addiction, fighting, harassment, stealing, assault. As a former prosecutor, you get a sense of human nature and how we fight against our worst selves, and no community is immune.

I also know crime victims can’t be expected to step forward if they don’t have sufficient guidance. There may be a reason that Lewis & Clark has higher hate crime statistics and that may be because it alone, among the three schools, has a full page on its website devoted to addressing and explaining how to report hate crime.

It may also be because the school has the least racial diversity in enrollment among the three schools.

Is Carbondale’s rough frontier reputation deserved when it has the same number of robberies on campus as plush upper middle class UNC in Chapel Hill? The numbers are cryptic at best.

In the end, I don’t think our SIU Clery Report changes the way I protect myself on campus.

It’s like going to the airport and noticing that the Homeland Security Advisory warning for air travel is at yellow instead of green that day. I still have to catch my flight and now I’m just a little more worried. But maybe that’s better than having no reminder, assuming it must be green and I have no real risk out in public.

The Clery numbers at SIU don’t tell you how safe you are as a student here in Carbondale; they tell you to remember to look out for yourself and look out for your friends.

They also serve as a reminder that your tuition dollars pay for services at SIU to try to help you if you’re hurt and to try to hold the dangerous people accountable who may live among you.

Since the last decade’s quiet revolution of Title IX college investigations of over 200 campuses by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, every campus must have a Title IX sexual assault investigation team.

SIU, in fact, has a new Title IX director this year.

As a professor, I have met a number of students over the years who reported to me that they were survivors of sexual assault who went through the campus discipline process at their undergraduate institution and it was a positive experience. As an attorney, I have worked with many crime victim clients who won criminal prosecutions, civil protective orders or child custody, and didn’t feel they’d really won at all because the trauma of the burglary, mugging, domestic violence or other crime didn’t go away or the sentence was too light.

These formal processes are not a cure-all and never will be.

But I think that the effort alone to monitor crime on campus is a good thing – the symbolic value of SIU saying in its Annual Safety Report that safety matters and that it takes notice of incidents of crime. This is worth something, if only to make us stop and think and discuss what we can do to stay vigilant and protect each other.

If you’d like to learn more about how SIU works to create a safer environment in reality, above and beyond reporting statistics, check out http://safe.siu.edu/file-a-report/crime-reporting-form.php/.

Jennifer A. Brobst is an assistant professor at SIU’s School of Law.

Letters to the editor can be submitted to [email protected] 

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