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DOJ and Department of Education Work Together to Improve Campus Safety

The following post appears courtesy of Laurie O. Robinson, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs. Today, I had the opportunity to speak at the National Meeting on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention in Higher Education sponsored by the Department of Education.  Together, the Departments of Justice and Education are addressing the important issue of campus security and ensuring that the latest crime prevention strategies are in place on our campuses.  In the words of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, “No school can be a great school until it is a safe school first.”  Even though the crime rate on most college campuses is well below the rate in the general population, the recent shooting at University of Texas in Austin reminds us that when crime does occur, it has the potential to be catastrophic.  Attorney General Eric Holder and I are committed to enhancing student welfare as we focus on ways to develop effective crime prevention and intervention strategies.  Our campus safety efforts are helped by the Clery Act signed into law 20 years ago.  This law requires colleges to disclose information about crime on campus and to provide basic rights and services to victims of sexual assault.  The Clery Act is one positive step in the right direction and has advanced the debate on how to address campus violence.  A recent project funded by the Office of Justice Programs’ (OJP) Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), in partnership with the Major Cities Chiefs Association, surveyed 56 urban police departments and 177 campus public safety departments.  This survey found a great disparity in the level of communication and coordination between local police and campus policies.   To improve this important partnership, BJA has published a set of campus security guidelines (PDF) written by the Major Cities Chiefs Association. These guidelines address issues ranging from risk assessment and emergency response plans to interoperable communications and media relations.  In addition, the Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office has trained more than 700 campus officials to help them identify individuals that may pose a threat to public safety and give them the help they need to avoid violence.  I mentioned earlier that the rates of most campus crimes are well below crime levels in the general population.  There is one exception – sexual assault.  OJP’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) reported that a campus with 10,000 women could see as many as 350 rapes a year.  The underreporting of this crime makes it difficult to measure  --   we know 90 percent of sexual assaults are perpetrated by an acquaintance of the victim and alcohol is often involved.  I believe the key to addressing this issue is to implement NIJ’s recommendations on how campuses can respond to sexual assault, including ensuring adequate services are available, developing written response protocols, and educating students about how to prevent assaults. Since 1999, the Department’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) has actively worked to address campus sexual violence through the $98 million in assistance it has provided to 300 institutions of higher education.  In March 2010, I joined several of my  Justice Department  colleagues in a tour of campuses across the country to raise awareness about these crimes on college campuses.  We will continue these efforts—because a campus is a community and, like any community, the ability of its members to grow and thrive begins with a sense of security.
Updated April 7, 2017