DPS revises number of 2005 sexual assaults

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

The Department of Public Safety has acknowledged and corrected an error in the 2005 crime summary, which had listed the number of on-campus sexual assaults as zero when it was released in September.

Four on-campus sexual assaults that were reported to the Office of Student Life were left out of the crime summary, said Margaret Klawunn, associate vice president for campus life and dean for student life.

The mistake in the summary, which was prepared in accordance with a federal law, was due to “administrative error on the part of the Office of Student Life,” Klawunn said.

Administrators revisited the sexual assault figure following stories published by The Herald regarding the crime summary, including an Oct. 16 overview of the summary and an Oct. 26 article in which several administrators spoke about the low sexual assault number.

“As soon as I read the article and knew that the Department of Public Safety (had reported zero sexual assaults), I knew I had to look back at the statistics for 2005,” Klawunn said.

The OSL compiles sexual assault data, along with drug, alcohol and weapons violations data, from several departments on campus, including Health Services, Klawunn said. The OSL then forwards the data to DPS, which incorporates the data into the annual crime summary. While the drugs, alcohol and weapons violations data were correctly forwarded, the number of sexual assaults was never sent, Klawunn said.

When compiling the report, DPS staff members, who documented three cases of sexual assault on “public property” from internal data, mistook these cases for the total number of cases from DPS and OSL, said Chief of Police Mark Porter.

“We had already recorded three forcible sexual offenses in public property and … it wasn’t clear whether these were internal or external,” Porter said. “If the report had zero sexual assaults across the board, we might have raised a conversation about the issue.”

The DPS report was released in accordance with the Clery Act, a federal law mandating that colleges or universities receiving federal financial aid must compile and distribute an annual summary of crimes committed on campus and in the surrounding area for the last three years.

When the mistake was discovered last week, DPS immediately notified the Department of Education, which enforces the Clery Act, Porter said. The online version of the crime summary was corrected and DPS will send a revised version of the report in a campus-wide email in the near future.

“It is important to remember that we process 1,600 cases a year. We try to be as accurate as we can, and we triple check all of our figures … but it is not a perfect system,” Porter said.

Klawunn would not disclose who made the mistake, but insisted that the error is not an institutional problem.

“Something like this has never happened before,” Klawunn said. “We have put into place measures that ensure that it will never happen again.”

Brown’s mistake is not likely to carry any legal or financial penalties, said Daniel Carter, senior vice president of Security on Campus, a group that pushes for enforcement of the Clery Act.

Universities tend to be audited by the Department of Education if there is evidence that they have repeatedly and knowingly not followed Clery Act instructions, Carter said. “Brown’s mistake does not seem to be an institutional problem,” he said, so it is unlikely the University will be audited.

“Technically, the University could face as much as $27,500 for each incident of underreporting, but a school, to my knowledge, has never been fined for a voluntary correction (to crime statistics),” Carter said.

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