TAMPA, Florida — Each year, USF – and every other U.S. college that accepts federal funding – submits a campus safety report to the federal government in compliance with the Clery Act. The Clery Report gives a snapshot of safety issues on-campus, but it can be a misleading representation of safety off-campus.
For instance, the crimes committed by Charlie Bates earlier this month – which included robbery, sexual batteries, assaults, and attempted murder – will not be included in USF’s reporting. And they weren’t as rare around USFas some students and parents believed.
In its last reporting year, USF reported just 80 serious crimes on-campus and1 crime off-campus. But the areas around USF, which are home to tens of thousands of students, are nicknamed “Suitcase City” for their frequent crime issues.
READ: USF’s 2013 Clery Report
In fact, a 10 News analysis of thousands of records revealed more reports of assault, battery, robbery, and burglary along the Western edge of USF’s campus than anywhere else in the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction.
But USF is only allowed to include in its report off-campus incidents that happen on the sidewalk or street immediately adjacent to campus. Crimes that happen across the street from campus are not included in the report.
Which means none of Charlie Bates’ crimes will be included in next year’s report either.
USF doesn’t typically offer students or parents any off-campus safety stats, but school officials admit students who choose to move off-campus are assuming more risk.
“We really can’t make sure they’re safe (off-campus),” said Tom Miller, USF Vice President of Student Affairs. “It’s not our jurisdiction.
First-year students at USF are required to either live on-campus or with their parents, and Miller says the school makes sure to engage students in-person both at orientation and during their first year about off-campus safety issues.
Additionally, the school has started forming partnerships with “preferred” apartment complexes that meet certain safety standards.
But its website offers no warning to students about off-campus safety issues or the high number of burglaries and property crimes nearby – merely an externallink to local apartment listings.
In contrast, USF’s website offerspages upon pages of safety information for the relatively few students who study abroad.
“I want everyone to know there is nothing more important than the safety of our students, faculty, and staff,” USF President Judy Genshaft said the day Charlie Bates’ rampage unfolded. “(But) this is a situation which is not uncommon around universities in the United States…we certainly don’t want it to ever happen in – or around – our campus.”
University of Tampa
Even private schoolsface the same dilemmas when it comes to reporting crime stats. The University of Tampa sits in the middle of some of dangerous neighborhoods – a lesson learned the hard way when student Ryan McCall was gunned down a few blocks north of campus in 2009.
Like most other crimes off-campus, McCall’s murder is not represented in any of the school’s federal crime reporting.
However, university officials say they provide additional brochures and disclosures to both parents and students. The bigger problem is that most are not interested.
“Something about the age of college students makes them feel immortal or not at-risk,” said Monnie Wertz with UT’s Operations & Planning department. “One of our jobs as administrators is to educate them on exactly what’s happening…so they can make better choices.”
The frustration of parents & students not paying more attention to safety issues off-campus was shared by not just USF officials but also students.
USF Senior Brittany Bagan was the victim ofburglary just a week before Charlie Bates’ rampage and admitted she never paid much attention to crime issues until it was too late, even though she lives less than a block from campus.
“(College students) are just thinking, ‘I’m on my own now, I’m so excited,'” Bagan said. “But they’re not thinking about their safety.”
A 2001 study indicated just 4% of college students said campus safety impacted their school enrollment.
Letter of the law vs. spirit of the law
In the last decade or so, the Clery Act has drastically increased campus safety awareness and transparency. But the non-profit group that facilitates the law, The Clery Center, says more improvements can be made.
“What we love to see institutions doing is really making sure that they are communicating with students and faculty and staff about the resources they have available and that they’re addressing campus safety issues,” said Abigail Boyer, Assistant Exec. Director with The Clery Center.
A recently-passed federal law will increase thedisclosures colleges and universities must provide about crimes of a sexual – or domestic violence – nature. But no changes are in the works to address the off-campus reporting discrepancy.
Another non-profit, PEACE OUTside CAMPUS – The Lindsey M. Bonistall Foundation, aims to “empower students and their families to be more proactive in safeguarding themselves against those who perpetuate crime and violence.” The group started in Delaware and is slowly expanding across the country.
How to look up safety stats yourself
The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) makes all campus crime data available on one website, http://ope.ed.gov/security.
You can search any single institution for the past three years worth of data, or you can compare multiple institutions against each other.
Also available online are all completed DOE investigations into Clery violations, including a recent investigation at Florida State University.