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Occidental now complies with federal crime reporting law, a new study concludes

The Occidental College campus.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Occidental College previously fell short in “numerous, serious, persistent and systemic” ways in reporting sexual assaults and other crimes on or near campus, but the school since has made changes and is now in compliance with a federal crime-reporting law, the U.S. Department of Education has concluded.

In a report released this week, federal investigators found that from 2009 to 2013, administrators at the Eagle Rock liberal arts school violated multiple mandates of the Clery Act, which requires colleges to report campus crime statistics each year. The violations included a failure to accurately compile and disclose crime statistics, issue timely warnings of potential safety threats, maintain accurate daily crime logs and provide necessary crime-prevention information to students, employees and parents.

The college lacked administrators with expertise in the law and its requirements and had inadequate systemwide policies and procedures in place, according to the Clery Act Compliance Division of the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid, which conducted the review.

Occidental has since hired additional staff and made institutional changes, and the Clery Act Compliance Division, or CACD, acknowledged in its conclusion that the campus is now in compliance with the law. The review states that, while “serious concerns remain,” most of the violations have been “satisfactorily addressed” by such changes. “Nevertheless,” it says, “the officials and directors of Occidental are put on notice that they must continue to develop the institution’s campus safety program and take any additional necessary action to fully address the [identified] deficiencies and weaknesses.”

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In a letter sent campuswide Wednesday, Occidental College President Jonathan Veitch acknowledged the report’s findings.

“We failed to get this right. Our own assessment, confirmed by the findings of the review, makes it clear that we simply did not dedicate sufficient time, resources and expertise to Clery reporting,” he wrote. “As we and many of our peer institutions have learned, the requirements of the Clery Act are more complex and require more resources than previously believed. Since 2013, we have fully cooperated with CACD’s review and significantly invested in remedying our shortcomings. The safety of the Oxy community is a paramount concern, and we have learned much from this experience.”

The federal investigation, following a formal complaint in April 2013, came amid growing national concern over how colleges reported and handled sexual assault cases. A separate investigation was launched that same year into whether Occidental had violated Title IX, after dozens of students and faculty members filed federal complaints that campus administrators had fostered a hostile environment for victims of sexual assault.

Investigators concluded in June 2016 that Occidental had failed to address some sexual misconduct complaints promptly but had not otherwise violated federal civil rights laws. Administrators voluntarily agreed to a number of campus reforms. Title IX, an anti-discrimination law, requires colleges that receive federal funding to impartially investigate reports of sexual assault.

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As a result of the Clery violations cited in the latest report, Occidental probably will be subject to hefty fines. The amount will be determined in a separate process that will take at least 60 days, officials said.

The Clery Act, which stemmed from a 1986 rape and killing on a Pennsylvania campus, is intended to give the public an accurate view of campus safety, and the statistics are consulted by parents, students and others evaluating college campuses. The law covers all criminal allegations, regardless of whether they are reported to police or adjudicated in court.

Veitch said in his letter to the Occidental community that in addition to conducting an internal review that led it to revise its reports for 2013, 2014 and 2015, Occidental has taken a number of steps to improve its reporting overall, including creating an internal Clery compliance team with representatives from a wide variety of campus staff, hiring a full-time Clery coordinator and a new campus safety chief, and providing additional training for staff responsible for Clery reporting.

The school, he said, also has improved campus safety policies and procedures and worked to become more transparent about safety issues, such as issuing communitywide safety bulletins and an annual report of formal and informal Title IX complaints.

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“We are grateful to the Oxy community for helping us to address this important issue, and are confident we now have the resources, policies, and procedures in place to fully meet our reporting responsibilities and, more importantly, the needs of the Oxy community,” Veitch wrote.

rosanna.xia@latimes.com

Follow @RosannaXia for more education news


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