It has been 25 years since the death of Jeanne Clery, whose rape and murder at Lehigh University inspired a federal law requiring colleges to report crime on campus – reporting which has shown an overall rise in the number of incidents in the last few years at .
According to the school's most recently published crime statistics, disciplinary referrals related to alcohol and drug violations more than doubled at Stony Brook between 2007 and 2009, the most recent years for which data was available. A referral denotes a violation of university rules rather than a specific violation of state or local law.
Burglaries represent the bulk of non-drug or alcohol related incidents on campus, with 134 reported in 2009. That represented a drop of nearly 37 percent from 2007, when Stony Brook reported 212 burglaries on campus, and was the only category of incidents to show a significant decline.
Other categories of reported crimes, however, appear to have remained somewhat steady, including forcible sex offenses, motor vehicle thefts and arson. According to similar reports published by other SUNY campuses, Stony Brook has actually seen fewer reports of forcible sex offenses but far more burglaries than SUNY Albany and more reports of aggravated assault, burglary, and forcible sex offenses than SUNY Binghamton. Binghamton saw one instance of murder or non-negligent manslaughter in 2009.Crime & Violations at Stony Brook University 2009 2008 2007 Sex Offenses – Forcible 5 4 5 Sex Offenses – Non-forcible 0 0 0 Robbery 2 6 3 Burglary 134 189 212 Aggravated Assault 3 7 2 Motor Vehicle Theft 7 12 9 Murder/Non-negligent Manslaughter 0 0 0 Negligent Manslaughter 0 0 0 Arson 7 3 6 Liquor Law Arrests 0 1 0 Liquor Law Referrals 463 385 226 Drug Arrests 19 13 6 Drug Referrals 317 173 73 Weapons Arrests 1 1 0 Weapons Referrals 19 17 13 Total On-Campus Incidents 977 811 555
Source: Clery Annual Security Report (September 2010)
In the same safety report, Stony Brook also reported 10 fires on campus in 2009. At a recent public meeting, a Stony Brook Fire District commissioner said the general number of calls for assistance received by the volunteer fire department from the campus is between 300 and 400 per year, including many late at night and many originating specifically with burnt microwave popcorn in residence halls.
The University Police referred calls on the issue of safety to a school spokeswoman, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment on campus safety.
Stony Brook has seen a few notable incidents over the last few decades. In February of 2008, university police responded to reports of a person with a gun on campus, but did not initiate a lockdown. In March of 2006, the Stony Brook Independent reported on a student who was assaulted twice in the same location on campus within the span of five days, including one attack which involved contact of a sexual nature. According to the article, university officials did not immediately inform students about the incident, initially saying they did not perceive a threat to the rest of the community. The incident led to a "Don't Walk Alone" campaign on campus.
In March of 1989, about three years after Clery's death, the New York Times reported on a white student who claimed she was raped by a black student athlete at Stony Brook. A group of students participated in an anti-rape "Take Back the Night" event soon after the incident; the accusations also sparked racial tensions on campus.
Collegeprowler.com, a college guide website which publishes student-written reviews, gave Stony Brook a grade of "B-minus" in the category of health and safety. That and other websites, including a 2007 Village Times article on a string of assaults or robberies and a Facebook page called "Stony Brook Bucket List" which lists things students should do on campus before they graduate, reference a "rape trail" on campus. "Find the rape trail" is No. 34 on the bucket list page, which also includes questionable activities like hanging out on building rooftops, accessing buildings after-hours, and jumping in fountains.
According to the University Police website, Stony Brook has programs in place to prevent rape and theft. The department, consisting of 70 police officers and 70 additional employees, was recently lauded by the New York State Law Enforcement Accreditation Council. The department maintains an online crime alert system as well.
At Stony Brook, many students said they weren't even aware of federal crime reporting requirements for colleges, but some said they feel generally safe on campus nonetheless.
Priya Madan, 19, said she "never even really questioned security at all."
"I haven't really had a lot of problems ... but I feel pretty safe here," she said.
Joseph Cavera, 19, has seen people taking small items like bottled beverages from campus eateries, but that's about it.
"I kind of made the assumption that if it's going to be a full-fledged university that they would have the proper amount of security and stuff like that," he said. "That kind of comes with a campus like that."
David O'Connor, 19, said he witnessed on campus, but it was the only incident he knew of.
"I generally thought that Stony Brook as a town and a community is a safe place," he said. "I never really suspected that anything bad would happen. If there was, I would have heard about it."
On April 5, 1986, a few days after returning from spring break her freshman year, Jeanne Clery was asleep in her Lehigh University dorm at about 6 a.m. when a student she didn’t know, Josoph M. Henry, entered the room intending to rob it. To get there, Henry had gone through three doors with automatic locks that had been propped open with boxes by students. Henry, who had been drinking all night, raped and strangled Jeanne after she woke up during his thieving. He was convicted of murder in April 1987 and sentenced to death.
Before Jeanne’s death, there were no uniform laws mandating that colleges report crimes on campus to students, employees, potential students or their parents. The Clerys found that out afterwards when they learned there had been 38 violent crimes on Lehigh’s campus in the three years before Jeanne’s murder.
After the initial shock, the Clerys began to speak out about the need for heightened security and reporting of campus crime. They sued Lehigh University for $25 million and settled out of court for an undisclosed amount and a pledge from the university to strengthen its security system. The family used the settlement to launch their advocacy and education group, Security on Campus.
In 1988, Pennsylvania enacted the first law requiring state colleges and universities to annually make public three years of crime statistics. Other laws followed, including the passage of the federal Campus Security Act that took effect on Aug. 1, 1991.
Later renamed the Jeanne Clery Act, the amended law requires all colleges and universities to publish an annual report detailing their security policies and three years of campus crime statistics for certain offenses. Institutions with police or security agencies must keep a public crime log and also give students and employees timely warnings of crimes that pose an ongoing threat. The U.S. Department of Education is required to collect and disseminate the crime statistics. The act affords sexual assault victims certain basic rights.
It’s tough to prove definitively that the act has reduced crime on campuses because no accurate statistics are available to show what college crime was like before the law, according to S. Daniel Carter, director of public policy for Security On Campus.
One of the big improvements has been that campus security has become more professional – a career track rather than just something municipal police did when they retired. “It’s really changed the culture of campus public safety,” Carter said. “Almost 90 percent of all large institutions have sworn police officers who carry firearms.”
But a U.S. Department of Justice study found that between 1994 and 2004, violent crime on campuses dropped by 9 percent and property crime decreased by 30 percent. Crime rates nationally also declined during that time.
Lehigh University police chief Edward Shupp, who was lead investigator on the Clery case along with two Pennsylvania state troopers, said the Clerys were instrumental in changing the focus on security and openness at universities.
“There have been so many positive changes that have come out of the tragedy,” Shupp said.
This story is based on reporting by Christine Sampson, Joann Fan, Micah Danney, and Margie Peterson.