Police logs at Southwestern College have been out of compliance with state and federal law for much of the past year and a half, including the Jeanne Clery Act, according to an investigation by the Southwestern College Sun.
College police in the United States are legally bound to maintain accurate daily crime logs that can be easily understood by members of the community. Police officials are required to make the logs and crime reports readily available to the public upon request.
In 1990 the Clery Act was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush following the rape and murder of Lehigh University student Jeanne Clery in 1986. Public universities and colleges must comply with the Act to remain eligible to receive federal student aid funding.
Higher education institutions are required to produce easily-understood crime logs to make the public aware of crimes and dangerous situations on campus so that students and staff can make informed safety decisions. Between 80-85 percent of SWC students receive financial aid.
An examination of campus crime reports since July 2013 shows inconsistencies, unreported sexual assaults and hate crimes, and a period of at least two months when numerical police codes were used rather than clear language.
Between October and December 2014 campus police changed from plain English that is easily understood to numerical police codes. Southwestern College Police Chief Michael Cash refused to answer why the crime logs were changed to police codes, though after he was questioned by a reporter in mid-December, the logs were switched back to plain English.
Weeks later Campus Police Dispatcher James Watson said the logs were changed to code because his co-worker, dispatcher Christina Luna, changed the logs to include the end time of the incident. When she did this, Watson said, she inadvertently changed the logging to numerical police codes. Luna has been with the police department for 10 years, according to SWCPD Sgt. Robert Sanchez.
Every night at the end of each dispatcher’s shift, crime logs are emailed to everyone in the police department, including Cash. This mistake was overlooked for two months before it was corrected in mid-December.
Logs must include the time the crime occurred and when it was reported. SWC logs fail to include that information. Crime logs, according to the Clery Act, are only supposed to include references to actual crimes. Clear examples are provided in the legislation. SWCPD logs, however, consistently include vague “special details” – typically 30-40 per week – that police officials said are not crimes. Special details are often errands, deliveries and, in some cases, car washes.
Several crime logs on the SWC police website would not open. Sometimes entire weeks were inaccessible. Others had wrong dates corresponding to logs. One log opened a document that was minutes to a meeting.
Clery mandates that an update or a change in the disposition of a case requires an update in the crime log within two business days. SWC crime logs have failed to do so. Campus police have crime logs that state “more info to follow” that date back to 2013, but no new information was ever added.
Non-compliant record keeping by the SWCPD makes it difficult to use data to fight crime and enhance campus safety at best. At worst, shoddy records could be construed as negligence or an attempt to misrepresent the college’s image related to safety. When asked about a number of crime log irregularities, Cash thanked a reporter for bringing it to his attentions, but refused other comment.
A survey of 316 SWC students and staff demonstrated ambivalence about campus safety and disappointment by female students about broken promises of escorts from SWCPD. While 67 percent said they felt safe on campus, 17 percent said they were not sure. Nine percent said no, many of those said they had been crime victims.
Of the respondents, 13.6 percent said they had requested a police escort. More than half of those said the police did not respond in a timely manner. Many wrote comments that the police never showed up at all. More than 1 in 10 (11.4 percent) of the SWC students in the survey said they had been followed without permission or stalked.
Governing Board Trustee Humberto Peraza said he was concerned about campus safety and transparent police logs, but also said that missed escorts and other police-student issues were a systemic problem.
“It’s not just about police,” he said. “It’s how the campus is handling it. How administration is handling it. What are we doing to make people feel safe on our campus? It’s much bigger than whether it’s police or not. We should be talking about it during orientations for freshman and educating people on sexual harassment, the rights that they have, where they can call. We should be promoting those things to let students know this is where you go if this type of issue happens. These are the forms you can file. They are online. It should be easy to find on the website. You shouldn’t have to hunt for it.”
Peraza said campus officials have to make sure people are safe on campus.
“That is the number one priority,” he said. “I think mandatory freshman orientation would be a good start. There should never be a time when somebody feels unsafe on campus.”
Peraza said if his own kids were ignored or did not feel safe on campus he would have “a few choice words to elected leaders of this college and for the administration of how my kids are treated.”
Having an all-male police department at SWC may be contributing to the problem, Peraza said.
“Males don’t worry about safety to the extent women do.”
***Check back each week for updates on the crime reports***