US fines WSU for campus safety

A report says recent corrective measures on campus do not diminish the seriousness of the violations

By Donna Gordon Blankinship
Associated Press

SEATTLE — Federal education officials have fined Washington State University $82,500 for violations in 2007 of a campus crime reporting law, including not properly reporting two sexual assaults, the university said Friday.

WSU will appeal the fine, spokesman Darin Watkins told The Associated Press.

The U.S. Department of Education detailed the fine in a letter to WSU President Elson Floyd on Friday, more than five months after federal education officials completed an investigation of WSU's campus crime statistics.

The government acknowledged in a report sent to Floyd in March the university has made improvements to its crime reporting since the incidents, but the report says those corrective measures do not diminish the seriousness of the violations.

WSU was one of several universities found in violation of the Clery Act this year. The federal law requires campus notification of potential threats to students and employees.

Earlier this year, Virginia Tech was fined $55,000 for failing to quickly alert the campus during the 2007 mass shooting that killed 32 students and faculty members. Virginia Tech is appealing. Virginia's attorney general called the fine "absolutely appalling," but the federal officials said it should have been higher.

Federal education officials audited the campus crime statistics at about a dozen schools this year, including Washington State. Some of those schools remain under investigation and could also be fined. Violations of the Clery Act are investigated by the student aid office of the U.S. Department of Education, and punishment may range as high as suspension of federal financial aid payments to a university.

The federal government found Washington State University guilty of two violations of the Clery Act, but one finding covered two incidents. The federal law calls for fines of up to $27,500 for each violation of the law.

WSU was charged with failing to properly disclose forcible sex crime statistics and accurately classify offenses, and failure to include statements about campus crime reporting policies in its annual security report.

The first incident stemmed from an Aug. 31, 2007, call to campus police that was incorrectly labeled as a "domestic dispute" and never corrected even though investigators found the case may have included a rape. The victim submitted a written statement that said a friend of her husband had sexually assaulted her.

The second incident involved a Jan. 27, 2007, police report of sexual assault that was labeled as "unfounded" by a records manager after the victim decided not to provide substantiating information to police. The records manager had no authority to label the case unfounded, and that action caused the case to be removed from campus crime statistics.

WSU did not argue against the findings in the federal report and said in one case the university had benefited from the guidance and information provided during the review process.

But in a statement Friday, Watkins said, "We disagree with the assertions in the report that the failures cited endangered WSU students and employees. The findings in the report relate to how crimes were reported in 2007. The mischaracterization of two crimes in our statistics did not in any way endanger our students or employees."

The university in 2008 hired a new police chief, who began restructuring the department.

"Since `08 we've had reviews and safeguards in place that include reviews and double-checks for all reports," he said. "The findings in the report are dated. These findings are not about the effectiveness of our police department."

Neither the Virginia Tech nor the WSU fines were the highest ever issued under the Clery Act. Eastern Michigan University agreed to pay $350,000 in fines in 2008 for not properly notifying the campus community in 2006 it was investigating the death of a student as a murder.

As a result of the WSU case involving a records manager, the university said it has started to "lock down" police reports so that any changes after the initial report must be made by the investigating officer or a supervisor.

The second finding against WSU found the university did not follow every federal rule concerning its annual security report, which the federal government requires universities to distribute to all students and employees each fall.

The federal government found WSU did not include information about WSU Counseling Services, its policy on disclosure of crime statistics and information on sanctions the university may impose for sexual offenses.

The university said it has revised its annual campus safety report to include these policies.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press

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