New Disclosure Crime Law Adopted by State
A new state law requiring colleges and universities in Massachusetts to more fully disclose incidents of crime on their campuses went into effect yesterday.
The legislation, which was drafted last year by Joshua A. Gerstein '91, eliminates an ambiguity in the law that allowed college and University police forces to disclose less information in their public logs than city and town police forces, according to Gerstein.
At Harvard, Police Chief Paul E. Johnson said that the policy of the university will change "only slightly" and that the University has always published information in the Harvard Crime Prevention Bulletin.
The new law, Johnson said, will result only in a "different compilation of statistics in a form that we can assist [state authorities] with what they're asking for."
Gerstein said he drafted the bill because he felt some campus police forces were not disclosing enough information.
"It had become clear that some colleges weren't being as forthcoming about reporting crimes on campus," Gerstein said.
"The most sensible thing to do was to make an amendment to the law that would make the same responsibility for campus police to make information public as any other police department in the state," Gerstein continued.
For many of the colleges in the area, the new legislation is not a particularly substantial change from their previous policy.
"The information has always been public, just never in this format," said James Ferrier, the associate director of the public safety division of Northeastern University.
Ferrier said that he meets with the university newspaper on a weekly basis to review the entire police blotter with them.
When this particular legislation was being discussed in the legislature this spring, Ferrier said, the public safety division began to keep a written log as well.
At the University of Massachusetts at Boston, Acting Chief Philip O'Donnell said, "This will make it a more formal process, but we're not changing the actual reporting process."
At Tufts University, Director of Public Safety John King said that he will not comply with the state law for now because it is in conflict with federal law, which states that schools do not have to disclose the names of students who are involved in crimes.
Tufts has been keeping a public log for the past six to 12 months, but the school has been shielding the names of students who are involved in a crime, King said.
"Student records are held to a different standard than regular records, and for now the arrest record is the student record," King said.
At present, an amendment sponsored by U.S. Sen. Timothy Wirth '61 (D-Colo.) would resolve this conflict, Gerstein said. Should the conflict be resolved, King said, he will begin complying with the new state law.