Chronicle of Higher Education: Bring Campus Crime Reports Out Into the Open
From The Chronicle of Higher Education (9/17/12): The campuses of private colleges are islands of invisible crime, black boxes where even violent offenses can largely disappear from public view. The public can find out more about an assault in a private homeowner's living room than about an assault on the quad at Notre Dame.
When police officers respond to a crime anywhere in America—a bank, a school, a private home—they create an "incident report" that, under the open-records laws of almost every state, is available for public inspection. But when private colleges operate their own police departments, secrecy prevails. That's because in all but a handful of states, police at private colleges are exempt from state open-records laws and need not make their incident reports public. The sum total of legally required disclosure is a one-line description of each crime, often too generic to be meaningful.
At Elon University, Nick Ochsner, a reporter for a student television-news program, set out to change this. In April 2011, he sued the university, arguing that the North Carolina public-records law entitled him to more than the perfunctory "what, where, and when" that campus police were providing about each offense.
This June the North Carolina Court of Appeals handed Ochsner—and everyone who cares about campus safety—a stinging setback. Even though Elon's police department exercises arrest powers delegated by the state legislature and attorney general, it need not obey the same disclosure rules as city or county police departments, the court ruled, affirming an earlier decision by a county superior court.