UTA faces a fine of $82,500 for incorrectly reporting campus crimes

Posted Wednesday, May. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
Students' rights The Clery Act is named after Jeanne Clery, a freshman at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania who was beaten, raped and murdered by another student in her dorm room in 1986. The law requires colleges to issue timely warnings of crimes that threaten the safety of students or employees. Colleges must also collect, report and disseminate crime data to everyone on campus. Additionally, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex discrimination, including sexual violence. Schools must investigate sexual-violence crimes and prevent their recurrence. Sources: U.S. Education Department, Security on Campus Inc.

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The University of Texas at Arlington is facing a federal fine of $82,500 for publishing inaccurate crime statistics for 2008, including the failure to report a sexual assault.

“These failures have endangered UTA’s students and employees who must be able to rely on the disclosures of campus crime statistics, policies and statements, and the accurate reporting of crime and statistics in order to take precautions for their safety,” stated an April 2 letter from the U.S. Department of Education.

The letter described the violations as “serious.”

“The university takes this very seriously,” UTA spokeswoman Kristin Sullivan said, adding that the problems raised in the federal review have been corrected.

The University of Texas System requested an appeals hearing on all allegations and proposed fines identified in the letter. The hearing has been granted but not yet scheduled, Sullivan said.

Under federal law, universities must make students aware of campus crimes. The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act requires higher education institutions that participate in federal student financial aid to report campus crimes in an Annual Safety Report.

Noncompliance can result in large penalties and campuses can also be suspended from financial aid programs.

Assaults incorrectly reported

Sullivan said the fine relates to a December 2011 letter from the Department of Education that found UTA police improperly classified, compiled and disclosed several 2008 crime reports.

The federal agency said the university improperly classified a forcible sexual assault as an assault. In that case, the victim said “an unknown male grabbed her thigh and female intimate area through her clothing.”

The department said that incident should have been classified as forcible fondling — a form of sexual assault — but the university argued in 2011 that the assault label is correct based on their investigation.

Another incident involved a fight between two roommates was listed as an assault of a family member. That fight involved hitting and verbal threats. One roommate held the other over a stove burner and threatened to turn on the stove. That fight ended with one roommate tearing out hair and earrings, according to the letter.

“On the basis of these facts, this incident should have been classified as an Aggravated Assault,” the education department stated.

UTA agreed, stating that the latter incident should have been labeled aggravated assault.

Because these two incidents weren’t classified correctly, the crimes weren’t included in UTA’s annual security report and crime statistics for 2008 so the report was unreliable, according to the Department of Education.

UTA was also cited for under reporting seven liquor law violations, 16 drug law violations and four weapons law violations, the letter states.

Report has been corrected

Sullivan said the university corrected the Annual Safety Report in question and resubmitted it to the Department of Education in January 2012. A revised version was also published on the campus police department website at the time.

Each year, the university posts an annual report based on the most recent data available. For example, UTA’s 2012 report includes statistics from 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Sullivan said campus police implemented a new computer software system in February 2009 to help officers code incidents and offense reports for annual reporting.

In February 2011, the university filed a 14-page response to the education department’s review that outlines why certain classifications were made and acknowledges that some were incorrect.

Accurate data important

The Department of Education letter emphasized the need for accurate crime data.

“Students and employees must be able to rely on the institution’s reported statistics,” the letter states. “The correction of violations does not diminish the seriousness of not correctly reporting these incidents at the time they occurred.”

In 2009, Tarleton State University in Stephenville was fined $137,500 for under reporting forcible sex offenses, burglaries and drug law violations in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

After an appeals process, Tarleton and the education department agreed last summer that the university should pay $123,500 in fines. That agreement was described as not constituting an admission of liability or wrongdoing by Tarleton.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675 Twitter: @dianeasmith1

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