Bill that would change crime reporting on campus passes unanimously in state Assembly

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A bill that would alter reporting protocols for campus officials and potentially affect survivors of sexual assault and violent crime was passed unanimously Wednesday by the California State Assembly.

Authored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), the bill would require certain campus authorities to immediately disclose violent crimes, hate crimes and sexual assault to local law enforcement agencies unless the survivor requests otherwise. Campus officials are currently compelled to report crimes annually in an aggregate fashion in compliance with a federal law called the Clery Act.

“If all of a sudden there was a serial rapist located on the corner of Telegraph and Durant … wouldn’t you want to hear about it now rather than in October?” Gatto said, referring to the timeline of annual Clery reports, in an interview with The Daily Californian.

Gatto aims for the bill to be enacted into law by this fall, in time to affect campuses during the next academic year. If passed by the California State Senate and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the legislation would impact institutions of higher education — private and public — across the state.

UC Berkeley sophomore Iman Stenson, a survivor of sexual assault, said any attention paid to sexual assault is a positive step forward. But reporting for survivors, she said, will probably not be any easier.

“It is important to remember that involving law enforcement is not an end-all to providing justice to sexual assault,” Stenson said in an email.

UC Berkeley sophomore Meghan Warner, who was assaulted by two men in a fraternity during her freshman year and who did not report the crime, believes that police agencies should be reformed to better handle sensitive investigations rather than “giving them more power” under the legislation.

“I’m always wary of getting law enforcement more involved,” she said, adding that the bill seems to be “disseminating responsibility” to multiple parties.

Still, Warner and Stenson agreed that the bill might result in more accurate crime statistics.

Federal law requires that certain officials with significant responsibility for students and campus activities — called “campus security authorities” — report incidents of crime to police departments. After President Barack Obama reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act last year, three new categories — dating violence, domestic violence and stalking — were added to the list of crimes that the Clery Act instructs to be reported.

“The reality is, the Clery Act just turns survivors of crime into a statistic,” Gatto said.

According to UCPD spokesperson Lt. Eric Tejada, the number of designated campus security authorities has grown exponentially in recent years to include positions such as residence hall security monitors and faculty advisors, which created challenges for the police department.

Tejada was also concerned that the language of the bill would create the perception that UCPD is not a local law enforcement agency and could prompt double reporting to UCPD and Berkeley Police Department.

“We’re not asking for duplication of effort,” Gatto said.

The bill does not outline drastic changes to designated campus security authorities. For instance, doctors and counselors are not required to report crime incidents to police departments for the purpose of collecting Clery data. These exempt officials will not be mandated to perform new duties under the legislation.

The Tang Center’s social services manager, Paula Flamm, who counsels sexual assault survivors, said that the bill is still evolving and that it’s difficult to tell how it will affect the campus.

“If counselors maintain their exemption, I don’t see this as any different from what we are doing now at Tang,” Flamm said in an email. “All cases of violent injury are reported to the police under the state penal code as soon as we become aware of them.”

Under the legislation, it is likely that crimes will be reported in a more timely manner, according to Claudia Archer, who handles UCPD’s Clery compliance and was recently appointed to the newly created survivor resource officer position.

“We may get more volume, but we’re definitely ready to do that,” Tejada said. “We’ll do everything possible to assist survivors and prosecute cases.”

Reflecting on the unanimity of the bill’s passage on the assembly floor, Gatto said Sacramento’s agreement shows the bill is an “elegant solution” to problems posed by sexual assault on college campuses.

Kimberly Veklerov is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KVeklerov.