Monday, January 13, 2014

OPINION EDITORIAL: Crime on campus: Local police should investigate incidents like San Jose State's

The stories are undeniably tragic.

At Occidental College in Los Angeles, the administration allegedly did not report on-campus rapes to law enforcement, apparently concerned that higher crime statistics would make prospective students choose elsewhere.

At San Jose State University, the administration admittedly failed to recognize the brutal abuse of a 17-year-old African-American student, who was targeted for his race, by his roommates.

The failure of administrators in these cases to recognize dangerous warning signs, properly train staff and take student-crime reports seriously has prolonged these students' misery and harmed their chances of seeing justice.

In the roommate abuse case, the young man was allegedly held captive in his room for short periods of time with a bicycle lock around his neck. The university's president has admitted that by "failing to recognize" the warning signs and not "intervening earlier," it "failed" this young man.

Similarly, the unwillingness of officials at Occidental to involve non-campus law-enforcement professionals in on-campus sexual assaults resulted in numerous students not receiving the medical attention they needed, and surely diminished the ability for them to someday see an arrest and conviction of their rapists.

If only the stories ended there. They don't.

Two Southern California colleges are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for their handling of on-campus sexual assaults and other violent crimes.

In addition, five U.S. campuses, including UC Berkeley and two Southern California campuses, are the subject of a federal lawsuit alleging violations of Title IX and the Clery Act. The Clery Act requires colleges and universities participating in federal financial-aid programs to disclose information about crimes that happen on or near campuses.

Victims of violent and demeaning crimes face numerous obstacles to a full recovery. For deeply personal reasons, some victims may choose not to report a crime to administrators or police. But those victims that do report should expect to be taken seriously, and for non-campus law enforcement to be notified immediately.

I think colleges should focus on instruction, and leave law enforcement up to the professionals. Victims of crime should not see their chances of justice hurt, nor their agony prolonged. I suspect that involving local police or sheriffs will result in greater prevention and threat assessment than if such things are left up to university administrators.

For these reasons, on Monday I introduced urgency legislation that would require colleges to promptly report on-campus crimes to local law enforcement. This legislation, AB 1433, strikes a balance between the right of a victim to not report a crime and the need for crime reports to be taken seriously.

It may not address all circumstances. Situations like the one at San Jose State demand additional training beyond the scope of this legislation to help administrators and staff to recognize the warning signs earlier.

But it will ensure that when students do come forward, their voices will not be silenced by bureaucracy or by concerns about student recruitment and retention.

Our college campuses may look like bubbles from the outside. But the crimes that occur there are no different in their effects on victims than crimes occurring elsewhere in our community.

Let's give independent law enforcement the knowledge they need to fight sexual assault and other crimes on campus.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, is chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the California State Assembly. He wrote this for this newspaper (Mercury

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