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What crime stats should colleges report?

May 19, 2011

House lawmakers have passed a bill requiring Brown University to reveal more information about incidents handled by campus police. Sponsors of the bill say they want more transparency from the college. The Rhode Island Association of Independent Colleges and Universities opposes the bill, claiming it could pose a threat to student privacy rights.

The measure has no companion so far in the State Senate, and it remains unclear whether Senate lawmakers will take up the issue. But it does raise interesting questions about just how much information private colleges and universities should be obliged to make public.

This particular bill applies only to Brown University because it involves a special accredited police force, which is not used currently by any other private college in Rhode Island. Accredited police, known at Brown as “peace officers,” undergo special training and have the power to make arrests.

The proposal calls for peace officers at private institutions to be subject to the same reporting requirements as accredited police at state colleges and universities. That includes arrest reports, which may contain the names of students.

Federal law requires all institutions of higher education that receive federal funding – meaning any school where students are eligible for federal student aid – to report annual campus statistics for crimes like rape and assault. Schools also have to make daily campus police logs available on request, though the logs contain fewer details than a typical police report.

The Association of Independent Colleges and Universities says campus police are different from municipal police, and that for lesser offenses, their aim is to help students not punish them. Supporters of the bill accuse Brown University of trying to cover up problems on campus.

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