In April 1986, 19-year-old freshman Jeanne Clery was tortured, raped and murdered in her dorm room by another student at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. Her killer was able to enter her room easily because three of the residence hall’s doors – which were supposed to be locked – had been propped open during the night.
Once convicted, Clery’s murderer was sentenced to death. Yet, the university’s administrators’ report of the crime concluded there was “no negligence” on part of the institution and that safety policies had been applied properly throughout.
The tragedy prompted Clery’s parents to dig deeper into the numbers of criminal offenses on campus, which led them to find what they considered disturbing situations.
In 1987, Clery’s parents made efforts to pass a law demanding higher education institutions to disclose information about violent crimes and other offenses on campus, as well as security policies in effect.
Three years later, President George H. W. Bush signed the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act – the Clery Act – which requires all colleges receiving federal funds to report crime statistics.
SDSU is no exception. A few weeks ago, students received a postcard from Student Affairs letting them know that the “SDSU Safety and Security Bulletin” was available online or through either the SDSU University Police Department or the Student Affairs office. Every year, SDSUPD in conjunction with Student Affairs, is federally required to collect data about crime reported on campus and compiles it in a comprehensive report detailing offenses and arrests.
“The Clery Act is a federally required piece of information. The postcard and making sure that we make all data available to students is all part of that act. It’s a positive piece of information,” said Marysz Rames, vice president for Student Affairs. “The point of Clery is for people to understand safety on campus, so they can take any extra precautions that they need to.”
So, what is SDSU’s most significant problem area when it comes to crime? According to this year’s figures, liquor law violations seem like the most prevalent issue among Jackrabbits.
Although the numbers have decreased, 170 people were arrested on campus in 2008 for said violations, compared to 239 in 2007. More than 400 were referred to the campus’ judicial system for alcohol law violations, while 14 were arrested for drug law violations on campus.
Other crimes reported on campus in 2008 include 19 burglaries – up from 7 in 2007 – one car theft and one weapons law violation in residential facilities.
Though in 2007, SDSU saw four aggravated assaults, three arson incidents and one forcible sex offense, there were no reports of these offenses in 2008. The data also indicates that, from 2006 to 2008, there have been no murders or hate crimes reported at SDSU.
Cora Olson, SDSUPD officer, believes that SDSU and the Brookings community are safe places, especially when compared to other metropolitan areas.
“The majority of students at SDSU are good … but it doesn’t mean that bad things can’t happen. Alcohol is a factor in a lot of crime, such as simple assault, sexual offenses, vandalism,” she said.
Olson warned that one misleading thing about the numbers on SDSUPD reports is that the incidents detailed are only those that have been reported or where SDSUPD has been directly involved.
“National statistics show that there are far more sexual assaults and rapes than those reported to authorities,” she said.
The officer said that oftentimes victims and attackers know each other and may even share friends, which is a deterrent to reporting an offense due to the fact that it could create a problem among a social circle.
“In general, I believe incidents happen more than what they’re reported, though that does not mean that this campus isn’t safe.”
Some of the trends on campus indicate that SDSUPD has “a busier schedule” during the two months prior to Hobo Day, said Olson. Nevertheless, the officer said this year has had less activity reported.
“For example, last year we had more reported attempted suicides and major incidents prior to Hobo Day than this year,” Olson said.
Jackrabbits seem to agree with both Olson and Rames in that SDSU is safe.
“I’d say this is a safe campus,” said Megan Knecht, a freshman undecided major. “I walk around campus at night a lot, and I don’t feel unprotected.”
However, Knecht did say that she thinks some areas need more lighting.
Brittany Hage, a senior English major said she has always felt safe at SDSU, though she always took precautions.
“The parking situation has made things a bit more precarious. You can’t just park anywhere, and sometimes you find yourself having to walk across dark areas,” she said.
As for the emergency call boxes, Hage did not consider them very useful because “this is a big campus, and you are not always sure where they are located or if they work.”
Courtney Woods, a freshman nursing major, would like to see more lights.
“For the most part I feel pretty safe on campus, but I’m the type of person who would like to have a few more light posts around campus,” she said.
Rames said she felt there is not a big problem with crime at SDSU, though she has taken into consideration input from the Students’ Association addressing the issue of insufficient lighting in parking lots and other areas on campus.
“Keeping the campus lit, making sure the call boxes are functioning, working with UPD so they’re on call when needed, working with residential hall staff on any incidents, looking at foliage to make sure it’s not blocking windows … we are constantly monitoring these things,” she said.
“We have a very good student body. I think we have a safe campus. But, can we get better and make sure it continues being safe? I think that’s our goal,” Rames said.