Photo from John Feinberg/Flickr
By Kevin Matyi
[Correction: Originally, the article stated that crimes such as larceny and theft were not required in the Clery Report. They are required if found to be hate crimes. Additionally, all reported crimes are listed in the police daily crime log.]
After the recent school shooting at Umpqua Community College, President Obama commented that similar shootings happened every few months in America. Given the frequency and severity of the murders, one has to wonder how safe college campuses truly are.
Throughout the country, crime has been decreasing over the past few years. This is true even for colleges like Stony Brook University, which had a 25 percent decrease in crime from 2011 to 2013, according to the annual Security and Fire Report, also known as the Clery Report.
The Clery Report is a mandatory record of crime and fires on campus that is published each year. The Report is a part of the Jeanne Clery Act, which Connie and Howard Clery created in 1990, 14 years after the rape and murder of their 19-year-old daughter, Jeanne, in her room at Lehigh University.
Assistant Chief of Stony Brook University Police Neil Farrell said the University’s decrease in crime “can be attributed to many factors: increased education programs, increased enforcement and increased use of available technology.”
In 2011, the Clery Report stated that Stony Brook University had 582 crimes, while in 2013, the number had fallen to 445.
Of the crimes on the Clery Report, approximately 80 percent were referrals or arrests because of drugs and alcohol.
Students seemed unsurprised by this, as 19-year-old linguistics and Italian double major Megan Lazzaro said, “drugs and alcohol are everywhere.”
However, it should be noted that the Clery Report is an imperfect method of measuring the total amount of crime on campus. It has two main problems interfering with the accuracy of its statistics.
First, there is a year delay before the information is disclosed. The 2014 Clery Report shows crime from 2011 to 2013, and the recently released 2015 Clery Report only shows up to crimes from 2014.
While this does not affect the accuracy of the numbers, it does prevent the average person from being able to access the data until at least a year after the crime.
Additionally, the university does not need to disclose all crime through the Clery Report. According to Laura Egan, the Director of Training and technical Assistance at the Clery Center for Security on Campus, “crimes such as larceny-theft are not included in the annual security report unless they are found to be hate crimes.”
She added that “the daily crime log, also a Clery requirement, includes all crime reported to campus police or security.” The daily crime log can be accessed by anyone who goes to police headquarters and asks to see it.
Egan also noted that the Clery Act is still evolving, as can be seen Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, an amendment which passed in to law last year.
Originally, the Clery Act required that crimes specified in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting code be put in the Clery Reports. VAWA adds sexual assault, stalking and dating and domestic violence to the Reports.
Unfortunately, due to not being required prior to the 2014 Clery Report, colleges have not reported the statistics from 2012 and previous years. The new-found accuracy will only effect future statistics.
Another factor aiding the accuracy of future statistics is that from 2008 to 2014, Stony Brook University vastly improved its crime reporting standards.
A 2008 audit by the New York State Comptroller’s Office found that Stony Brook under reported up to 50 percent of crime in some areas, however a follow up audit in 2014 found that not only had Stony Brook stopped under reporting, but the only reporting error was a single over count of drug referrals.
Even with improved reporting and crime in general decreasing, there was still one crime for every 40 students on the Stony Brook university campus in 2013. Despite this, students seem to feel very safe on campus.
Parth Patel, a 21-year-old information systems major from Great Neck, said that he felt “pretty safe, even at night,” and that “the students here are very mature,” and did not engage in criminal activities.
Farrell agreed, saying that “Stony Brook University is an extremely safe campus.”
While students and police alike thought that the campus was safe, and agreed that it can still become safer, they disagreed on exactly how this should be done.
Students like William Dwyer, a 21-year-old Electrical Engineering major from Mount Sinai, wanted more community involvement, while also saying that the police have been “headed in the right direction.”
Patel said that it would be beneficial to have seminars teaching students about why crime is a bad idea, and Lazzaro said that it would help to inform people about more of the crimes on campus.
Farrell concluded that “partnering with the campus community an essential part to providing a safe and secure learning environment,” and that “it is imperative for this partnership to continue and to grow” in order to keep Stony Brook University as safe as possible.