Counting Crimes: String of crimes shed light on TUPD’s legal obligations

Cliff Soloway and Josh Axelrod

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At some point after receiving their acceptance letter, every Tulane student undergoes the “safety talk.” As much as Tulane recalls prestige in parents’ minds, the city of New Orleans, along with its culture, brings thoughts of significant crime rates.

Tulane University Police Department has released 13 crime alerts since Aug. 6 covering these incidents. Last year, the department sent out the same amount of crime alerts over the course of eight months.

Parents, students and members of the Tulane community want to be knowledgeable about crime occurring around campus and trust they will be informed. What that entails, even by the legal definition of The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, is a fine line.

Whenever a crime is reported to TUPD, the organization’s command staff decides whether or not to send out a crime alert via email across campus. Many believe that these alerts have a significant effect on the perception of crime in the Tulane community.

Campus police are required by the Clery Act to release “Timely Warnings” regarding on- and off-campus crime that could potentially pose a threat to student safety. At Tulane, these take the form of crime alerts sent out to Tulane students’ school email accounts.

A majority of students that The Hullabaloo spoke with cited crime alerts as their primary source for information about criminal incidents at Tulane. These students feel that the inclusion of some crimes and exclusion of others skews the public viewpoint.

“Every single time that the crime alerts are sent, I read them in extensive detail,” sophomore Anfernee Murray said. “It’s important to see who is being publicized as victims and offenders to give an idea of the type of…violence around Tulane.”

The 2015 Tulane University annual fire safety and security report outlines the specific procedure for issuing Timely Warnings.

“The University will issue Timely Warnings when the following criteria are met: 1) a crime is committed; 2) the perpetrator has not been apprehended; and 3) there is a substantial risk to the physical safety of other members of the campus community because of this crime.”

TUPD Captain Jarrod Sullivan said TUPD considers several factors when deciding whether to issue an alert.

“When determining the need for a ‘Timely Warning,’ factors such as proximity to campus, number of occurrences and status of the offender are considered,” Sullivan said. “For example, a robbery committed just off-campus with a subject in custody would likely not warrant a ‘Timely Warning.’ However, the same offense committed by an unknown subject likely would.”

Using its discretion, TUPD has released 18 crime alerts since April 2016. These cover seven burglaries, nine robberies, three indecent exposures and one aggravated battery.

Sexual Assault   

Since February, four violent sexual crimes were reported to TUPD. Three of these cases are still open, and no crime alerts were sent out.

Some students shared a desire for all sexual assault crimes to be reported. These Tulanians said that the information would affect their behavior and vigilance.

Freshman Keira Rosner feels that unsolved sexual violence crimes should be reported.

“I feel like I probably should receive a crime alert for [sexual violence crimes], just so people are aware,” Rosner said. “I feel like if you found out later that something happened, and they didn’t send out anything about it it would look like they were trying to cover it up.”

This discrepancy between the time of occurrence and the time it was reported is indicative of one of the major factors TUPD considers when deciding whether to release a crime report: if it can be classified as an imminent threat.

An incident that occurred in Sept. 2014, for example, was not reported until Aug. 2016. Two of the sexual assaults occurring in February and marked as reported in April, however, were committed on campus and are listed as open cases in the TUPD crime log. These incidents did not receive crime alerts.

A simple rape, defined as when one party is too incapacitated to consent, was committed off-campus on March 19. It has no case number, but was reported the same day. Ten days later, a sexual battery, defined as unpermitted contact of genital areas, was committed on campus. The case was later closed, and no further action was taken.

Michelle Story, the director of student safety on the Undergraduate Student Government, oversees the student safety committee, maintains a relationship with TUPD and reviews crime alerts.

“I know for a fact, it has absolutely nothing to do with downplaying an issue…” Story said. “Those crime alerts are sent out anytime there is potential threat to the campus community… Sexual assault is a slightly different issue just because of how sensitive it is.”

Drug Law Violations

Since February, 18 drug or alcohol violations have been reported on the TUPD crime log. Two of these cases are still open. No drug crimes, however, have been included in crime alerts since January 2012.

“It’s not a clear-cut issue,” sophomore Graham Andreae said. “I think people should be educated about the school’s drug laws, but it can also be potentially damaging to the people involved, since drug related charges are a big deal.”

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program violent crimes are broken into four categories: murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

Drug crimes are not considered in this classification, and there is question as to whether these incidents pose an immediate and direct threat to campus security.

Burglaries

Beginning last month, there has been a string of residential burglaries and robberies committed in the area around campus. President Michael Fitts sent out an email informing students and faculty about this uptick in residential crime.

“We will continue to provide the highest level of protection and service to the Tulane community both on and off-campus,” Fitts said. “Your safety is our highest priority.”

Story said she felt these reporting decisions directly affect students lives at Tulane.

“If a student doesn’t feel safe on their own campus they’re not going to really reach out and achieve their goals or achieve their potentials,” Story said.

The reliance many students have on crime alerts as their sole source for information about nearby criminal activity gives the reports the potential to dramatically shape the campus crime narrative.