Post Classifieds

Campus Police selectively provide information

By Natalie Davis
On October 25, 2011

In April 2009, The News Argus was unable to acquire information from the Winston-Salem State Police Incident Report. According to the Winston-Salem Journal, Campus Police Chief Patricia Norris said that there was a lack of resources in the department.

Fast forward October 2011: The Argus staff again has been denied complete access to official reports involving criminal activity on campus.

The WSSU website provides case numbers, dates, times, locations, and names of the criminal activities. However, to get the complete report, the Argus must provide the case numbers to Norris.

She said she will orally provide the case narratives, but not any names involved.

The Clery Act requires colleges and universities to disclose timely and annual information about crime and security policies on campuses [See Crime Blotter on Page 2 for more details].

Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said that the Act requires that the logs must be made available in their entirety.

He said that it does not give the University discretion to give verbal summaries or selective excerpts.

 "A verbal report is not an acceptable substitute because that allows the police to be selective in what they disclose," he said.

LoMonte said that the police cannot legally refuse to turn over this information.

Norris said that her office will no longer provide the written narrative because according to her interpretation of The Clery Act, Campus Police were "providing too much information."

LoMonte said that the public gets to see for themselves what crimes are occurring, and journalists shouldn't have to play guessing games.

"The public is entitled to know about every incident, not just the ones the University chooses to reveal."

LoMonte said that a log must be up-to-date within 48 hours of the crime report.   

Norris said that she will only send detailed information about criminal activities if the details fit the crime alert criteria.

This method of selectively providing information is in violation of the N.C. Public Records Law.

LoMonte said that Campus Police can withhold records, only if it can point to an exception in the law that applies.

"The basic police report information does not fall within any exception of any law," he said.

"At a public university, you [campus community] are entitled to all of the information that any police department would have to produce under the N.C. Public Records Law," LoMonte said.

The Public Records Law requires a description of the circumstances of the arrest [including the nature of the charge], and information about the witness who filed the complaint [name, age, address, sex].

 Any person and agency that violates the Public Records Law can be sued in state court, and if they lose, they must pay the winning side's attorney fees.

"The agency is required by law to respond ‘as promptly as possible,' so if the piece of paper is sitting right there behind the front desk, then it must be turned over immediately," LoMonte said.

"The Department of Education can heavily fine a university that fails to comply with The Clery Act."

In fact, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State was fined $55,000 for violations of a federal campus crime reporting law in its response to the shootings that claimed 33 lives on campus four years ago.

 "The Department takes compliance with The Clery Act very seriously because there has been a history of universities underestimating the amount of crime on campus and even lying to the public about violent crimes to protect their image," LoMonte said.

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