On Feb. 13, two Yale students were walking home from a party. They were assaulted and robbed of their phones on Cross Campus, and one of the students suffered a broken jaw. The cases were not reported to the Yale Community — a result not uncommon for crime occurring on campus.
Since the beginning of the spring semester, students have received 11 campus-wide emails from Yale Police Department Chief Ronnell Higgins alerting them of various crimes on and close to campus. The emails have ranged from reporting cases of sexual assault and voyeurism to robberies. Although most students interviewed assumed that these emails covered all reported crime on and around campus, the reality is that administrators decide which crimes to report to the community.
University spokesman Tom Conroy said in an email to the News that messages to the campus community are sent out on a case-by-case basis, when a crime is judged to represent an “ongoing threat to the community.” Higgins, a key member in making these decisions, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
While 15 students interviewed said they were more frightened by a lack of information, a full list of the crimes that have occurred on campus is available online through the Public Safety department’s daily crime log. This is a requirement of the Federal Clery Act, which places certain requirements on universities regarding how they report different campus crimes. Under the act, universities are also required to send a campus-wide email when the police department deems the crime poses an “ongoing threat.”
In an email to the News, Janet Lindner, deputy vice president for human resources and administration, said that in addition to sending campus-wide notifications, the department also sends regular safety updates to advise students on how to best protect themselves.
“Information on crimes is not meant to frighten anyone, but to increase awareness,” she said.
The crime log reveals that the incident on Feb. 13 may not be the only crime on campus students would have expected to hear about.
AN AMBIGUOUS ACT
In 1986, Jeanne Ann Clery, a 19-year-old freshman at Lehigh University, was raped and murdered in her college dorm room.
Her parents discovered that the school had not informed students of 38 violent crimes on Lehigh’s campus in the three years leading up to their daughter’s murder. Together with other campus crime victims, they pushed Congress to enact new reporting requirements through a law, which was passed in 1990 and most recently amended in October 2014.
The act requires school police departments to report crimes that fall within seven categories: criminal homicide, sex offenses, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft and arson.
Failure to report such cases would suggest that schools are not abiding by the law. But this is merely an assumption.
Universities are not required to send a campus-wide email after every crime. Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security on Campus — a nonprofit dedicated to educating students and schools about the Clery Act and reducing on-campus crime – said schools are only legally bound to notify all students, such as through a campus-wide email, if the crime is “considered to be a threat to other students and employees.” In addition, before the school police department can consider sending a campus-wide email, the crime must have first been reported to campus security or a local law police agency. Crimes reported to YPD are also required to be recorded in a crime log that is made public on a campus website, and compiled into a Public Safety Report produced annually.
However, even though the statistics are made public, Patrick Cournoyer GRD ’13 said the lack of legal obligation to send a campus-wide email in every instance creates a critical information gap for students.
“When the emails are sent inconsistently, it becomes misleading and that’s the problem,” he said.
One student, who had her phone stolen from her hand while walking near the downtown area and asked to remain anonymous, said her experience was not reported to the community in an email from Higgins.
Even though the student said she was surprised, she recognized it would be impossible for YPD to report each event. She said the key issue is students’ lack of understanding about what leads the YPD to send an email. She pointed to the recent thefts in Trumbull College and the incident on Feb. 13 as examples where she was confused by the lack of notification. In January, students in Trumbull College received an email from their Master informing them that a number of students had reported theft in the college. But, students across Yale College did not receive any further notification of the thefts.
“It’s scarier to hear gossip of more violent crimes, or stuff happening directly on campus than it is to hear it from an email,” she said.
THE SEXUAL ASSAULT QUESTION
In addition to robberies and other crimes, sexual assaults are also reported in accordance with the Clery Act. Yet, while many students interviewed believe all sexual assaults reported to YPD by students should be reported to the community, Kiss said it is important to understand what it means for a threat to be “current and ongoing.”
Six forcible sexual assaults have been reported to YPD this semester. The first two reported, on Jan. 20 and Jan. 23, led to emails from Higgins; the remaining four — two of which were on campus — were not reported via email, but details were made available on the crime long. Higgins did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the matter.
One of the on-campus cases, reported on Feb. 24, ended in an arrest, something which Kiss said can be a signal to the University that the incident, while serious, was not an ongoing threat. Kiss added that, in cases like this that end in an arrest, the University does not need to send an alert asking for further information, which most of Higgins’ emails do. Of the four cases that were not reported via email, three were reported on the crime log as closed.
Kiss said that another reason a sexual assault may not be reported to the wider community could be that the university acquired enough knowledge of those involved through the police report. Consequently, administrators could deem the situation to be under control and therefore not an ongoing threat.
Hannah McCormick ’17 said it is crucial for students to know that instances of sexual assault are being reported to YPD so that they can better understand campus climate.
McCormick said the four sexual assaults not reported to the campus community were evidence of a “rape culture running rampant,” as she said it demonstrates an administrative desire to conceal information of incidents of sexual assault on campus. She added that, despite Kiss’s reasoning, she struggled to identify a convincing argument for why one campus sexual assault would merit a campus-wide email and another would not.
One student, who was a victim of a crime that was not reported and asked to remain anonymous, agreed with McCormick, adding that they feared the administration was trying to protect themselves from bad press after two incidents of sexual assaults in January were made public through reports sent to the campus community.
But, Kiss said not sending a campus-wide email should not always be considered a deliberate cover-up of information. By not sending an email, Kiss said the University can actually take steps to further protect the identity of a victim. Sometimes, she added, providing the details of a crime in a campus-wide email can too quickly identify people involved. Allowing connections to be made could prevent future victims from coming forward.
“It’s one of the most underreported crimes, and community response is important to consider,” she said.
McCormick said that while the reasoning can be legitimate, the campus-wide notification would not necessarily have to provide that many details. She added that the information posted on the public crime log that relates to the incident could just be sent to the community.
HOW MANY IS TOO MANY?
One Yale Security officer, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions, said he was surprised when the events of Feb. 13, on campus, did not join the list of events included in campus-wide emails, especially considering that it took place in a prominent campus location.
Five of seven students interviewed on Cross Campus said they would expect to be notified if a student were to experience a crime there. While each student interviewed said they did not think an email for every reported crime is necessary, more clarification on why certain crimes are unreported would be helpful.
Kiss, on the other hand, said it is important for administrators to be careful when making these decisions, as there can be repercussions if students are informed every time a crime occurs. If YPD had reported everything that had been reported to them this semester, as some students interviewed called for, the Yale community would have received 181 emails from Higgins since the beginning of the semester. On Feb. 2, the date on which the crime log shows the highest number of reports in one day, 16 would have been sent.
Lindner said instances when the community is informed should act as a means to encourage students to be aware of their surroundings, not frighten them.
“Crime can happen anywhere, at anytime of the day, so there is no perfect way to take precautions, but we believe sharing information with students heightens their awareness,” she said.
Kiss said there is a significant difference between being informed that a crime has happened and being informed of the risk that it can pose. If students wish to be better informed, she said, they should read the University’s daily crime log, which provides the most accurate and up-to-date list of the crimes that have occurred on and around campus.
Recently, several students, have reported experiencing credit card fraud — a crime about which the YPD did not notify students. After reading on Facebook that other students experienced the same issue, Keren Abreu ’15 began to work with other victims to identify the common denominators in their spending. But Abreu said the entire issue could have been resolved much quicker.
“If the University community had been notified earlier on, we could have probably avoided the [many] cases of fraud that have occurred in the last few weeks,” Abreu said.
Credit card fraud had been already been reported to the YPD seven times during the semester.