College campuses have their share of high-profile criminal cases. From the Virginia Tech shootings to the Penn State sexual abuse scandal, colleges and universities have several notorious incidents in recent years.
But what about cases that are not so extraordinary? In cases of alleged sex offenses, for example, there is often significant doubt about whether a sexual assault or other offense has even occurred.
For the past two decades, federal law has required colleges and universities compile statistics about crime on campus and disclose that information publicly. Formally, the law is known as the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistic Act. In short, it is simply the Clery Act.
In theory, the law contains guidelines about which types of crimes must be reported. In practice, however, there are wide disparities between how different schools gather and report the data.
The reporting law is also limited in that it does little to track crime that occurs in neighborhoods near campus.
There is also the question of how school officials respond to cases that could potentially involve ongoing threats to other students. The Clery Act imposes a duty on school officials to issue warnings in appropriate cases.
Such warnings should be based on credible evidence, however, for obvious reasons. It makes no sense to spread panic and hysteria in the name of safety awareness.
One example of the disparity in campus crime statistics is right here in Missouri. The numbers from the University of Missouri are considerably higher than for its neighbor, the University of Kansas. This does not necessarily mean there is more crime at MU than KU; it may merely mean that the two schools have different reporting systems.
Source: "Column: Number of Clery releases indicates need for change," The Maneater, Mara Somlo, 9-11-12