State audit: SUNYIT, Morrisville not reporting crime data properly

Marques Phillips

An audit conducted by state officials concluded SUNYIT in Marcy and Morrisville State College are among 19 of the 29 State University of New York schools that are not accurately reporting crime statistics.

SUNYIT was found to have discrepancies between two different reports as well as improper categorizing of data. Morrisville was cited for improper categorizing of data.

The audit, as well as school officials, agreed the instances of noncompliance could be due to insufficient training and/or communication. Representatives from both schools also said the problems mentioned in the audit would be addressed.

The audit was designed to evaluate each school’s compliance with the Clery Act, which aims to provide information about the safety and security of college campuses. It requires colleges to provide campus crime statistics for the three most recent calendar years for public observation.

“Parents and students have a right to examine the safety of a college,” said Jennifer Freeman, deputy press secretary at the Office of the State Comptroller. “The only way they can find that out is if the schools report the information accurately.”

Freeman said while it’s not always the case, the incentive to report accurately to the government is that schools can be penalized with fines up to $27,000 or possibly face withholding of financial aid for misreporting that information.

Inconsistent reports

While no inconsistencies were found in Morrisville’s reporting, SUNYIT was one of nine schools that were found to have more than 20 discrepancies between the data included in the school’s annual security report and the data reported to the state Department of Education.

The annual security report is a report posted online with crime statistics for public viewing, while Department of Education reports are reviewed by the government.

John Swann, SUNYIT’s public information director, said he had not yet read the report as of Wednesday but insisted any noncompliance was not intentional.

“We have a long standing reputation for safety and security and we operate in full compliance with the Clery Act,” Swann said. “… It’s just about the reporting of data and doesn’t deal with safety itself.”

Swann said one of SUNYIT’s strongest selling points is its safety, and he pointed to state-of-the-art security camera systems, dozens of call boxes, on-call security escorts and a full-time campus police force as evidence.

Lynn Lee, a first-year student at SUNYIT, said one of the reasons she came to the college was because she felt comfortable with the campus.

“I absolutely feel safe,” she said Wednesday. “They have good security here.”

Freeman said the audit wasn’t meant to be an indictment on any school’s security, rather a review of compliance with procedures.

Improper filing

Aside from statistical discrepancies, the audit also examined reporting policies as pertaining to security and safety. Morrisville was found to have failed to fulfill five of these requirements, while SUNYIT failed to fulfill nine.

Jessica DeCerce, Morrisville’s director of public relations and governmental affairs said the school’s noncompliance was found to have been with listing the kinds of hate crimes, of which there have been none, and the proper place to list services for victims of sexual crimes. She said both are easy to correct.

DeCerce said she doesn’t want to look at the findings comparatively to other schools, but was happy with Morrisville’s record of compliance.

“Since I’ve been here for 10 years, and since the Clery Act was passed, we take it very seriously,” DeCerce said. “Just speaking for myself, it’s nice to work for a place that says, ‘The numbers are numbers and that’s what they are.’”

The audit, as well as school officials, agreed the instances of noncompliance could be due to insufficient training and/or communication. The audit made recommendations as to what should be done to correct the mistakes, and Freeman said SUNY has agreed to follow the recommendations.