Private colleges' crime records going public
A Connecticut commission ruled last week that Yale University must provide access to campus police personnel records. It's the latest in a series of rulings mandating greater openness at private universities.
Like cops in any major city, campus police officers at many private universities carry guns and can arrest people on the spot. But since they don't work for taxpayers, the public can't always delve into the records of what they do and where they do it.Skip to next paragraph
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But that may be changing.
At Yale University in New Haven, Conn., an attorney is successfully prying open personnel records of the campus police department. In Georgia, 2006 legislation opened up police records at private universities to public view. In Massachusetts, the legislature is considering a similar bill.
Crime records at private universities are "the last major issue in terms of getting access to crime information," says S. Daniel Carter, senior vice president of Security on Campus, Inc., in King of Prussia, Pa.
For their part, private universities say they are not public agencies and must act to protect the privacy of students and staff. But critics argue that public relations play at least as big a role. "For PR purposes, colleges want to perpetuate the impression that their campuses are crime-free enclaves," says Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., which supports college newspapers. "Honestly, no one believes that. Everyone believes that a campus with 20,000 or 30,000 young people on it is going to have some crime. It's not even an effective charade."
The intertwined issues of crime on campus and the right to privacy are in the spotlight after the shootings at Virginia Tech University in April 2007. In another tragedy last Thursday, a former student shot and killed five students and himself in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.