Arrestees' names now in separate crime log
The Department of Public Safety overhauled its reporting practices in 2008 and 1998
October 3, 2013, 9:32 pm · Updated October 3, 2013, 10:24 pm·
The Division of Public Safety slightly modified the procedures by which it makes crime information public — the most recent development in a long history of evolving reporting practices by the University.
In a letter to the editor in Thursday’s Daily Pennsylvanian, Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush wrote that DPS, as mandated by federal and state law, maintains a daily crime log that includes all the incidents reported to the Penn Police. They keep a separate crime log available 24/7 at DPS headquarters — 4040 Chestnut St. — containing the names and addresses of those arrested, as mandated by state law.
Since the DP informed DPS that the online crime log inadvertently contained personal information of juveniles who were arrested — in violation of a Pennsylvania law — the online crime log has not contained the names or addresses of anyone arrested. The most recent change in the daily crime log before this year included the addition of names and addresses of arrestees to the online crime log before it was removed in August.
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, emphasized that crime reporting was important from both a public knowledge standpoint and an accountability standpoint.
“Pennsylvania has a specific police blotter statute, and the police blotter statute specifically enumerates the kind of info that’s supposed to be readily publicly available,” he said. “I think it would be awfully, awfully hard — if you’re in a country other than North Korea — [to say] that police can arrest people and not say who and not say why.”
In 2008, DPS conducted a minor overhaul of its reporting practices when it began to report information about sex crimes that occurred on campus. DP editors brought concerns to DPS that a “confidential” listing whenever a sex crime occurred violated the Clery Act — a federal law mandating that all colleges and universities receiving federal funding report certain information about crimes on campus.
“There was an acknowledgement that a sex crime had happened, but there was no other information about where it actually happened, [or] whether it was rape versus indecent assault,” said Emily Babay, a 2010 College graduate and former DP editor. After consulting with lawyers, Babay and other editors went to the University to make the case that sex crime information should be public.
DPS officials were initially hesitant “for all the right reasons,” 2009 College graduate and former DP reporter Anthony Campisi said. “I think they were really, genuinely concerned about violating these women’s privacy,” he said. Pat Brennan, director of special services, expressed a concern at the time that making more information available would discourage victims of rape and sexual assault from reporting the crimes. Eventually, however, DPS began disclosing information about sex crimes, and cited Clery Act compliance as the reason.
At the same time, DPS also began including the names and addresses of all people arrested in the Penn Patrol Zone in the online version of the crime log.
“We were poking around and realized there were these state reporting requirements,” Campisi said. “It turned out they had been keeping for years this state crime log that they never told us about.”
According to Rush’s letter this week, Pennsylvania law mandates that colleges and universities maintain “a daily log as a public record” that includes “the name and address of adult individuals arrested, the charges filed against those arrestees and the disposition of those charges when and if reasonably available.”
During the changes in 2008, DPS combined the two crime logs and posted the composite online for public review.
Currently, the information required by the Pennsylvania law is only accessible at Penn police headquarters — not in the online posting. While this week the names and address of people arrested are available at the computer kiosk, the information was not given last Thursday when the DP went to request it.
The last significant change to Penn’s crime reporting prior to 2008 came 10 years earlier, when the United State Department of Education investigated the University for allegedly covering up crimes that occurred on campus.
In a Philadelphia Inquirer article entitled “How Safe Is Penn? Depends On Whose Tally,” the newspaper wrote that of the 188 robberies in the Penn Patrol Zone in 1995, only 18 were included in Penn’s annual crime report.
The article said the discrepancy was due to a misleading and overly narrow definition of “on campus” by University officials. The Department of Education undertook a review of the claims in 1997.
The final report, issued in February 1998, absolved the University of the primary complaint: that it deliberately covered up crimes on campus to mislead the public about the safety on Penn’s campus.
It did note, however, several less severe violations of the Clery Act — including failure to report hate crimes on campus, omission of several specific incidents, lack of reporting on other University-owned property away from the main campus and failure to distribute reports to prospective and current students.