Campus security reports need more transparency

By Editorial Board

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act outlines required procedures for the gathering and reporting of crime statistics on college campuses. While Columbia’s actions have technically been in accordance with the federal law, many aspects of the security alert system could be greatly improved to better serve the Columbia community.

The Clery Act requires colleges and universities to send out timely warnings about reported crimes on campus or in the surrounding area that pose an ongoing threat to students and faculty. While Columbia’s Office of Campus Safety and Security does send out such security alerts, the online list shows many incidents reported between Aug. 30 and Dec. 31, 2010—including 42 thefts, 14 suspicious person reports, six burglaries and one case of battery—for which no alerts or notices were sent out. The college isn’t obligated to send out alerts if a reported crime didn’t involve a student or occur on campus, but these incidents can continue to affect students and staff, and we have a right to know about them.

The act also requires schools to keep an up-to-date log of all reported crimes publicly available. Columbia posts a monthly list of reported incidents online, but the daily Crime Log and Fire Log—a list of reported incidents updated on a daily basis—is only available upon request at the Office of Campus Safety and Security.

While the college isn’t actively hiding information from the Columbia community, many improvements in communication can be made to give faculty, students and their families a clearer picture of what life on an urban campus looks like. Crime is part of life in any urban setting, and downplaying the number of reported incidents by not sending out alerts is a misrepresentation of the campus and a disservice to current and potential students.

However, simply sending out more notifications isn’t necessarily the answer, because that could lead to an oversaturation of information, and alerts should never be seen as a nuisance to be ignored. Rather, Columbia should make its reporting of crime statistics more open and transparent and make information easily available. The college should post the daily Crime Log online and explain discrepancies between crimes reported and which alerts were sent out. Furthermore, the Office of Campus Safety and Security should do more to educate the public about how and where people can access the most recent and relevant security information available.

See the Chronicle’s report on Columbia’s adherence to the Clery Act for more information.