Off-campus crime data reveals hole in US law

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

By Ioanna Makris and Henry Ramos

Some 1,600 Texas Tech students were victims of crimes off campus in Lubbock in 2009, compared to just 35 on campus.

The 1,600 crimes, which were about 10 percent of all the major crimes reported in Lubbock that year, were not included in Tech’s federally-mandated crime disclosure report, which only requires on-campus crimes be reported. Numbers from 2010 will not be available until Oct. 1.

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, or Clery Act, requires all universities receiving federal aid (basically every university in the country) to report crimes on campus in order to notify and alert students, prospective students, parents, faculty and staff of the prevalence of crime at the universities.

However, a major shortcoming of the law is it does not require disclosure of crimes against students off campus, which, in the case of many universities like Tech, is where most students live.

“It is such a problem with off-campus crime and there are so many of them,” said Connie Clery, one of the primary forces behind the act and mother of Jeanne Clery. “But when we started it, it was so impossible for us to deal with everything. It was easier to deal with on-campus (crime).”

Connie Clery said she needed to do something to protect college students after her 19-year-old freshman daughter was raped and murdered in her residence hall at Lehigh University in 1986.

“There is nothing worse than losing a child,” she said while crying. “There is just nothing worse than having your child butchered and murdered unnecessarily in a place where you think it’s safe. There is nothing worse.”

Connie Clery said she hopes to see a change in the way off-campus crime is treated one day.

“I don’t know how, but we have to deal with off-campus crime because that is where the students are, and we have to take care of them,” she said.

Tech currently has more than 30,000 students enrolled in the university, according to the dean of student’s website. However, approximately 23,000, or 77 percent, live off campus. According to the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Educational Statistics, between the school years of 2007 and 2008, about 88 percent of undergraduate students lived off campus in Texas, whereas nationally, 83 percent of undergraduate students lived off campus.

Connie Clery said she knows it is also the obligation of students to stay informed about off-campus crimes.

“Students now have to be responsible too,” she said. “I feel the greatest responsibility is that students have to keep themselves informed so they can take precautions.”

Tech’s student body makes up about 13 percent of the population in Lubbock, compared to the 10 percent student victimization rate.

The great majority of the crimes committed against Tech students off campus in 2009 were not crimes of personal violence. There were 698 burglaries of an automobile, 502 burglaries of a residence and 255 thefts. There were no homicides reported. Fifty-one aggravated assaults were reported off campus, compared to three on campus, and 24 robberies were listed off campus, compared to three on campus.

Sexual assaults and rapes are difficult to determine because many go unreported. For most that are reported, the Lubbock police do not provide the name of the victim on the public crime report.

According to the Lubbock Rape Crisis Center, 105 victims were raped between the ages of 18 and 25 in 2009, with 26 of those reporting they were college students. Tech reported two sexual assaults on campus in 2009.

This project was done as a part of the Light of Day Project by the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, in conjunction with The Texas Tribune, to try to determine if there is a serious problem with the Clery Act not requiring the reporting of off-campus crime against students. A number of other universities in Texas also participated in this project.

The other universities that agreed to participate were Abilene Christian University, Southern Methodist University, Tarleton State University, Texas Christian University, Texas State University, the University of Texas at Arlington, and the University of Texas at Austin.

To date, most of the universities were unsuccessful in determining the amount of off-campus crimes because of legal hurdles.

The University of Texas at Austin later decided to withdraw from the project.

In early May, Wanda Garner Cash, University of Texas at Austin clinical professor and associate director of journalism, said the school decided not to participate because of the lack of student interest.

However, in an Aug. 5 Freedom of Information Foundation meeting in Austin, Cash said the reason why the university did not participate was a lack of faculty interest.

In order to compile the research, a list of all the crimes in Lubbock with the names and dates of birth of victims was obtained. A separate list of all Tech students by name and date of birth was  also obtained. The two lists were compared in a database program by first name, last name and date of birth. More than 1,600 matches resulted. It is possible that a few of these are not Tech students but Lubbock residents who have the same first name, last name and date of birth as a Tech student.

In an attempt to gather an accurate analysis, thefts and shoplifting at retail locations (for example, Walmart, the South Plains Mall and a few Lubbock gas stations) with the same complaining victim were removed from the data. These crimes were removed because the student who reported the crime acted as a representative of the store and was not personally victimized. However, since the data obtained from the Texas Public Information Act request was not detailed enough to make a completely accurate determination for all thefts, some of these crimes might still be in the analysis.

An example of a crime committed against a Tech student not listed on the Clery Act report is a recent assault that occurred more than a mile east of the Tech campus in a popular student apartment complex.

Rachel Hutchinson, who at the time lived at University Pointe, said she unlocked the front door while waiting for her friend to come study in her apartment. After sitting back down at the kitchen table, the front door flew open and standing in front of her was a naked man.

“I was petrified. I thought something bad was going to happen to me,” Hutchinson said. “I thought I was going to get raped.”

With only a sock on his foot, the intruder began running towards her, Hutchinson said. She ran to her roommate’s bedroom door and started pounding it hysterically while screaming for help. The intruder was swinging at her, but Hutchinson managed to dodge the punches.

“He was facing me at her door and he punched at me, but I somehow ducked,” she said. “I don’t know how I ducked.”

According to Hutchinson’s offense report, the suspected attacker, Jarrod Lemuel Dorsey, resides more than 300 miles away from Lubbock. Hutchinson’s roommate said Dorsey was visiting friends who also lived at University Pointe.

University Pointe, which is a part of American Campus Communities, declined to comment on the incident that occurred on March 25.

According to data compiled, University Pointe and Lynnwood Townhomes had some of the highest rates of student victimization in 2009.

Gary Hutchinson, Rachel Hutchinson’s father, said he called University Pointe multiple times before he was able to speak with an on-site manager.

“I asked about the security in their complex. All they said they had was security gates and an officer who lives on site,” Gary Hutchinson said. “It is not as secure as you think it is.”

He said he asked the manager to share his daughter’s story with the other students residing in the complex, but when a statement was released, it was very generic and only reminded students to lock their doors at night.

Gary Hutchinson said it would be beneficial if a report or a map was created each year showing which apartment complexes off campus have the most crime.

“Something like that would have factored into our decision of where Rachel should live,” Gary Hutchinson said.

Tyler Patton, Tech Student Government Association president, is also concerned about off-campus safety.

“A relatively high concentration of crime occurs right across the street, whether in Overton Park or Tech Terrace. That is where a majority of our upperclassmen, off-campus students live,” Patton said.

He said the City of Lubbock and officials at Tech should be attempting to find a solution for off-campus crime reporting.

“That really means to me we should be coordinating better,” Patton said.

Randy Neugebauer, who represents the 19th District in the United States House of Representatives, said the use of technology is another vital tool in notifying students about crimes that have occurred.

“I have already seen a lot of schools that have adopted procedures where they can notify students by a text message or phone call,” he said. “In the technology age we live in today, we can use that technology to notify students and it would be beneficial.”

Neugebauer said collaboration is also a key component in keeping Tech students safe off campus.

“I know the Tech campus has their own police department and the city of Lubbock has their own police department. You would hope the collaboration is going on and where you’re identifying areas that are high crime areas,” Neugebauer said. “Taking appropriate steps to make sure you have presence there to work in those areas.”

Ron Seacrist, Tech chief of police, said the relationship with the Lubbock Police Department is good but LPD does not always notify Tech police if a student has been victimized off campus.

“Sometimes we get notified. Sometimes we don’t,” he said. “It depends upon how busy they are, and quite honestly who the shift commander is at that time.”

Seacrist said there is no law requiring city police to notify university police of student victimization off campus.

—Editor’s note: These stories were completed as part of the Light of Day Project in conjunction with The Texas Tribune, and were submitted for publication to The Daily Toreador.

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