Fredonia objects to report criticizing college for underreported crime

A report from the state comptroller’s office says the State University of New York at Fredonia underreported drug, alcohol and weapons crimes to the Department of Education in 2012, the latest year such data is available.

SUNY Fredonia officials, however, say the report is based on a “clerical error.”

The report, issued Friday by state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, contained a study looking at SUNY schools’ compliance with the Clery Act. The study looked at all SUNY schools and determined the difference between crimes reported in their annual security reports versus crimes reported to the Department of Education.

The report indicates that SUNY Fredonia made 59 drug arrests, 21 liquor arrests, one liquor referral and five weapons arrests that it did not report to the Department of Education. The 86 underreported crimes were more than 60 percent of all of the underreported crimes in the entire SUNY system.

After DiNapoli sent out the report to media across the state, SUNY Fredonia issued its own statement saying those discrepancies were the result of a clerical error which occurred during the early part of 2014 as data was transferred during the re-formatting of Fredonia’s website.

SUNY Fredonia officials state that the university was consolidating data which had previously been held in multiple reports into a single report, to create an all-inclusive more transparent report. In the process, all of the data from the single reporting category, “Liquor, Drug, and Weapon Arrests” (86 incidents in all) in 2012, were mistakenly left blank.

According to SUNY Fredonia officials, this was the data used to create the campus’ Annual Security Report (ASR) cited in the Comptroller’s release. “It is important to note, however, that the data filed with the U.S. Department of Education was never inaccurate at any time in 2013 or 2014, and the 2012 ASR data was also correctly reported initially in 2013,” the college’s news release stated.

College officials state that the ASR data error was identified by campus personnel on May 6, 2014 and corrected immediately. On the same day, Fredonia’s University Police verbally notified the SUNY Commissioner of Police of the error and correction, and official confirmation was received from SUNY shortly thereafter.

“The press release issued by the Comptroller’s office (Friday) following the findings of its auditors states that there were an inordinate proportion of reporting discrepancies committed by the campus in 2012,” said Fredonia’s Marketing and Communications Director Michael Barone. “However, the literal interpretation of that data suggests that our campus reported that it had no liquor, drug or weapon arrests whatsoever in all of 2012. While we would be thrilled if that were the case, it’s a highly unlikely scenario for any college campus.

“Nonetheless, the initial error occurred on our part, and we take responsibility for that and apologize for the confusion which it has caused,” Barone continued. “We take the reporting of crime statistics and the spirit of the Clery Act very seriously. We would never knowingly or intentionally under-report such data in any manner.”

According to the comptroller’s office, the Clery Act, created in 1990 as the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act, requires colleges and universities to maintain and disclose crime statistics and security policies. The federal statute is named for Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old Lehigh University freshman who was raped and murdered in her campus residence hall in 1986. As a result of the Clery Act, information about the safety and security of college communities, including both crime and fire data, is readily available to the public to help people make informed decisions when choosing a college for educational or employment purposes.