University officials delay in forwarding sex-related crimes to police

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Darrell Hoemann/C-U Citizen Access

An emergency phone on campus on April 6.

On Sept. 26, 2016, a female University of Illinois student reported to a university employee that she had been the victim of a sexual offense two nights earlier. On that Friday night, she went to Brother’s Bar & Grill, and the next thing she remembered was waking up in her apartment realizing several of her possessions were stolen, including her laptop.

She also remembered that she had been assaulted.

But a report filed by the employee to the Title IX office on Sept. 26 didn’t make it to the University of Illinois Police Department until Dec. 9.

Another student reported to a university employee that she had been sexually assaulted at a fraternity house, after drinking heavily at a campus bar and being promised a safe place to sleep. The employee filed a report on October 9, but the report did not reach university police until Dec. 9.

On Oct. 13, 2016, a female student reported to a university employee that the previous weekend she attended a concert, and an unknown audience member behind her made unwanted contact with her. By the time she turned around with pepper spray, the alleged offender ran away. Again, the employee’s report filed immediately with the Title IX office was not forwarded for almost two months.

University officials neglected to forward student reports of sex offenses to university police for months, despite the requirement that all sex crimes be reported immediately, according to a CU-CitizenAccess and The Daily Illini analysis and interviews with the police department.

In fact, on Dec. 9, 2016, 15 of the year’s 89 alleged sex-related crimes were reported to the police by Title IX after a reminder email was sent to the Title IX office, campus security authorities and police departments. The dates of the 15 cases ranged from Dec. 6 as far back as Sept. 13.

The reminder email, obtained by CU-CitizenAccess and The Daily Illini through a Freedom of Information request, was sent on Nov. 16, 2016, said with the release of the Department of Education’s findings on Penn State.“It is imperative that you fully understand what an important role you plan on our campus and with our compliance efforts

“We contacted them after we got all those, and we said, ‘What are you doing?’” said Jennifer Payan, compliance coordinator for the university police department.

The Title IX office is supposed to ensure the university complies with Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. Title IX prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of sex. Staff members are mandated reporters for sex-related crimes.

The Women’s Resources Center is another mandated reporter and has also delayed in filing reports on sex-related crimes to university police. After Dec. 9, the Women’s Resources Center sent over 10 additional reports. Alex Howard, records clerk, also said there are instances where the University of Illinois Police will receive a stack of reports from Champaign Police Department all on the same day that were filed earlier with Champaign Police.

“When we saw that we knew something was broken in our system, so we go and try to communicate with these groups about the need for timeliness and the consequences for something that should have had a warning [Campus Safety Notice] and it didn’t,” said Tony Brown, deputy chief of the University of Illinois Police Department.

Deputy Chief Tony Brown

All agencies are supposed to report crimes to the police department immediately. Yet, only 148, or one-in-three, have been reported within a week of the alleged crime, impeding police investigations and reducing the likelihood that a Campus Safety Notice is sent out.

A Campus Safety Notice is a mass email to university faculty, staff and students warning them about a crime.

Some of the delay can be traced to students not reporting crimes immediately, but CU-CitizenAccess and The Daily Illini found a lack of timely reporting from campus security authorities, police jurisdictions and the Title IX office to the university police is another factor.

Any reports submitted from Title IX and campus security authorities are not investigated by the police as crimes but instead used for recordkeeping and sending out Campus Safety Notices that warn the campus of an ongoing threat. .

A review of documents shows  the Title IX office has often not reported in a timely manner. The delays led to meetings and conversations  between departments in 2016, Brown said.

“This has been a concern in the past, and it’s why we had many conversations,” Brown said. “Every year, our processes get better and better.”

The 115 sex-related crimes reported to university police in the first four months of 2017 has already surpassed the 89 crimes reported to police in all of 2016.

The U.S. Department of Education can fine a university $35,000 for each violation – that is, failure to report an incident – and the University can be audited at any time. For example, if an assault was reported to a jurisdiction and never passed along to university police but deserved a Campus Safety Notice, that could warrant a fine, Brown said.

The university has never been audited, but large scales fines occurred after audits at Penn State University, which was fined $2.4 million in November 2016; Eastern Michigan University, which was fined $360,000 in December 2007; and at Virginia Tech, which was fined $55,000 in March 2011.

“Universities across the nation are struggling to develop systems to ensure that we comply with the reporting and dissemination of sexual assault cases,” said Danielle Morrison, Title IX and disability coordinator, in an emailed statement on Wednesday.

She said in the email: “The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a large and complex organization with hundreds of avenues through which students can report information and connect with support resources.”

Morrison said the University continues to identify ways to improve its reporting, including hiring a full-time Title IX coordinator to focus on timely reporting. Previously, the Title IX coordinator was also in charge of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Access.

Morrison added: “Of course even one missed warning would not be acceptable, and I will continue to work with CSAs to ensure that they understand the importance of sharing documentation quickly while still maintaining their focus on connecting the survivor with resources and support.”