Georgetown’s Department of Public Safety has failed to report a total of 65 incidents, ranging from cases of indecent exposure and unlawful entry to armed robbery and sexual assault via Public Safety Announcements, over a 29-month period, a recent investigation by The Hoya has found.

The investigation, which began in October, has turned up a number of inconsistencies between DPS crime logs and PSAs released to the campus community from May 2006 to October 2008. More than 70 percent of all assaults during that period, as well as more than 40 percent of burglaries and 40 percent of sexual assaults went unreported via PSAs.

The Hoya did not consider cases of theft, domestic dispute or suspicious activity in the investigation.

A campus safety department is required to maintain accurate up-to-date daily crime logs under the Clery Act, which states that campus security authorities must keep record of all reported incidents of crime in a campus community and make the records of the previous 60-day period available to all interested students and faculty. These logs, by law, must be made available to the public by DPS and were obtained by The Hoya through a legal request. The crimes in the logs were then compared to the crimes reported via PSAs.

A comparison of the Clery logs to the PSAs sent to students from May 2006 to October 2008 revealed that PSAs were inconsistently issued for serious crimes. The logs record 28 assaults and 21 burglaries for which no PSAs were sent. 22 of these assaults and 18 of the burglaries occurred on campus. Both residence halls and office buildings were listed as crime locations in the logs.

Asked about the pattern of discrepancies between the logs and campus PSAs, Sgt. Joseph Smith, crime prevention coordinator for DPS, said that the decision to send out a PSA is made on a case-by-case basis.

“You look at the totality of the circumstances … when you’re looking to issue a PSA,” he said. “The first criterion is whether or not it is a serious incident. The second criterion is, `is this a threat to the community?'”

Smith said that the criteria for notification includes both the circumstances of an individual case and whether it is deemed to constitute a larger threat to the community.

“We don’t look in terms of percentages,” he said. “You can look at this and say, 60 percent, 70 percent … that’s meaningless. … [There is] nothing to be read into in terms of any trend. … We do this on a case-by-case basis.”

The Clery Act is named for Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old Lehigh University student who was murdered in 1986. After her death, an investigation by her parents revealed that there had been 38 violent on-campus crimes in the previous three years which had not been disclosed to students. The law mandates that students and employees be given “timely warnings” of threats. The DPS Web site states that the department meets this requirement.

“Alerts are issued when incidents reported to the Department of Public Safety constitute a felony or serious misdemeanor, involve a hate/bias element, or a serious physical injury, and may pose an ongoing threat to members of the university community,” according to the Web site.

Smith said that in situations in which a suspect had been arrested, a PSA would not need to be sent out, as the suspect would no longer present a threat to the community. He added, however, that arrests were not likely to account for the total number of crimes that lacked PSAs.

Public safety officials at Georgetown determine whether or not a crime is a “threat” and thus whether or not a PSA should be issued by working with law enforcement professionals and university officials from the Office of Student Affairs and members of the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Affirmative Action.

Smith noted that DPS sends out more alerts than is required by law.

“When we look at an incident we first look at: `Does it meet the threshold of [the] Clery [Act]?’ … We really like to go beyond that. … Even if it doesn’t meet this criterion, `would we still like to inform the campus community?'” Smith said.

In addition to the 28 assaults, 21 burglaries and four sexual offenses, there was one case of arson, one bomb threat, one case of unauthorized possession of a weapon, three cases of indecent exposure and one armed robbery that appeared in the logs but did not feature in a PSA.

While DPS Associate Director Doris Bey said in an October interview that some incidents may not have been reported via PSA to students because they did not pose a threat, she added that she was not aware of any cases in which an armed robbery would not be a threat.

“I can’t explain that. All armed robberies should be reported with PSAs,” she said.

Smith declined to comment on specific incidences, but reiterated that all PSA decisions were made on a case-by-case basis. He added that in some instances, PSAs are not issued as it may hurt an ongoing case or investigation. This is permitted under the Clery Act.

According to section 4.B.iii of the Clery Act, “If there is clear and convincing evidence that the release of such information would jeopardize an ongoing criminal investigation or the safety of an individual, cause a suspect to flee or evade detection, or result in the destruction of evidence, such information may be withheld until that damage is no longer likely to occur from the release of such information.”

In addition, the decision to decline to send a PSA is made in consultation with other offices on campus, including the Office of Public Affairs, according to university spokesperson Julie Bataille.

During this same time frame, four sexual assaults appeared in the logs but were not reported to students via PSA. While both the armed sexual assault in LXR Hall last April and the unarmed sexual assault two days later at Village A were reported to students via PSA, a third sexual assault followed three weeks later and was never reported to students.

According to Bey, there are a number of reasons why a sexual assault may not be reported in a PSA.

“There are sexual assaults that aren’t reported in PSAs – there are sexual assaults that aren’t reported to us,” she said. “If a boyfriend rapes or assaults his girlfriend, that is not something we report to the community.”

DPS Director Jeffrey Van Slyke, who came to Georgetown as the new DPS chief in June 2008, said in the same interview that reporting sexual assaults can sometimes be harmful to victims.

“If the confidentiality [or] trust of victims is breached, it would be a hindrance to getting victims the resources they need,” he said. “[Sometimes] we have students who want to make a report [but they] insist they don’t want it reported to students, especially if it’s not a threat to the student.”

However, S. Daniel Carter, director of public policy at Security on Campus, Inc., a widely recognized nonprofit organization founded by the Clery family that works on campus security issues and national Clery Act compliance, said this issue is more complicated.

“Our experience tells us that most, but not all, acquaintance rapists are just as predatory, if not more so, than their stranger rapist counterparts,” Carter said. “This means that they are likely to re-offend and have more than one victim in their community.”

Asked about the specific policy question of whether or not such individuals are likely to be threats, Carter said, “I don’t think it would necessarily be correct to say that every acquaintance rape is a threat to the broader community, but [research] bears out our experience that most are.”

Carter referenced a peer-reviewed study which stated that rapists who know their victim are still likely to offend again.

Some victims elect to report sexual assaults to Georgetown’s Counseling and Psychiatric Service instead of to DPS. PSAs are not sent out for these incidents. The Clery Act’s reporting requirement does not mandate that crimes reported to a counselor, rather than to campus police, be included in the daily crime log.

According to Bey, some of these crimes are not reported by the victims to DPS and because CAPS ensures privacy, DPS may not find out about sexual assaults until the end-of-year report is filed.

“When I’m putting sexual assault [statistics] together [for the end-of-year report], the sexual assault coordinator always has more reports of sexual assaults than we do,” she said.

In 2007 alone, six sexual assaults were reported in the annual statement, but only two were found in the logs, indicating that the logs themselves do not fully capture the level of unreported crime on campus. Numbers for 2008 are not yet available.

In at least 21 cases, PSAs were sent out for incidents that were not reported as such in the logs, including two sexual offenses. Smith said he was uncertain what could explain this.

Bey said that the DPS logs are at times unclear because incidents are logged as they are first reported, before investigations have been completed.

But The Handbook for Campus Crime Reporting, produced by the Department of Education, states that, “If a reported crime is investigated by law enforcement personnel, and they determine that a crime did not occur, the log should indicate that the disposition of the crime is `unfounded.'” No entries were marked as such in the logs provided to The Hoya.

The DPS logs also include several incidents, which were categorized as “D.I.” or “Dept Info.” Bey said this classification usually means that the incident occurred off-campus, but said that the definition of a D.I. was at times unclear.

“It’s not 100 percent, but D.I. is designated to off campus,” she said. “When we need something stronger than a memo, we make it a D.I. rather than an incident or an offense. . It usually affects staff rather than residences.”

However, one such case marked “D.I.” – an armed robbery – occurred on campus, according to the logs.

In some cases, crimes are designated only with D.I., leaving the nature of the crime unclear in the logs. For example, in September 2008, the logs include a D.I. in O’Donovan Hall. Bey said the incident was a domestic dispute involving a Leo’s employee.

Some crimes were classified as D.I. in addition to another designation, such as armed robbery or sexual assault.

For the 21 crimes given the D.I. designation dating from May 2006 onward, only six PSAs were sent. Most of the crimes given the D.I. designation, 20 of 21, occurred after September 2007.

DPS has made strides to publicize the logs since The Hoya first interviewed officials about the issue in October, including putting the 2009 logs online.

The university did revise the PSA system slightly last year to include crimes that had a hate or bias element as well as to generally send out more PSAs for more incidents, Bataille said.

Asked if there were any plans to alter the reporting system in the future, Smith said, “We’re always going through a process of self-examination. … We are constantly looking at ways to be better at public safety. … It’s an ongoing process.” He did not indicate if any specific changes are planned.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.