Behind The Numbers: A Closer Look At Campus Safety

Dec 14, 2018

This fall, Northern Illinois University released its annual Safety and Security report. We spoke with university and community leaders to find out how they are trying to keep students safe.

Credit Claire Buchanan

The annual report details campus crime statistics for the past 3 years. It’s mandated by the Jeanne Clery Act. The act is named for Jeanne Clery, a Lehigh University student who was raped and murdered in her dorm room in 1986. All institutions of higher education that participate in federal student financial assistance must publish an annual report.

The statistics disclosed this year show that while crime at NIU is relatively steady from year to year, 2017 saw a significant decrease in drug related crimes. 72 drug arrests were made in 2015, and 51 were made the following year. Last year only had 12. But NIU Police Chief Tom Philips says that doesn’t really mean drug use decreased that year.

NIU Poliece Chief Tom Phillips

The decrease in drug crimes reflects changes in laws and reporting practices. Possessing 10 grams or fewer of marijuana was no longer considered a criminal offense, but rather a civil offense punishable by a fine. These offenses are not counted in the report statistics starting in 2017.

Sarah Garner says the Clery Act is a consumer protection law. Garner is NIU’s Title IX Coordinator. She says it helps improve the transparency of institutions of higher education, so prospective students and their parents can be aware of campus crime rates before choosing a university.

Garner says, “So really, the Jeanne Clery Act was a way to advise people who are purchasing a product. Higher education can be considered a product. So really, helping make informed decisions for parents regarding, ‘I want to send my son or daughter to a safe school, where are safe schools?’”

Title IX is a law that protects against sexual misconduct including sexual harassment, assault, stalking, and domestic and dating violence. Statistics on these crimes are all disclosed in the Safety and Security report. People who experience these types of crimes at NIU can report them to Garner’s office, where they investigate Title IX crimes to enforce the policy.

NIU Title IX Coordinator Sarah Garner

When a student files a complaint with the Title IX office, they meet with an investigator to discuss the complaint. Investigators will also meet with the accused person and any witnesses in order to gather evidence and determine whether policy was violated and how to move forward. Title IX investigations are typically finished within 60 days.

Garner says that every year NIU students complete a preventative online Title IX training course. The course covers what sexual misconduct is, what support services on campus exist, what the institutional process for reporting and investigating look like, and who to report complaints to.

Title IX investigators also refer students to appropriate resources on and off campus. That includes Shana Ware. She’s the Advocacy Coordinator at NIU’s Counseling and Consultation Services.

Ware works with students who have experienced domestic and dating violence, stalking, and sexual assault. Advocates can help students understand their options and guide them through legal and university processes, and make sure any other needs are met. This may mean connecting them with counseling, medical follow up, legal services, or academic accommodations, or even just helping them return to their day-to-day lives.

NIU Advocacy Services Coordinator Shana Ware

Ware says any NIU student can use the free Advocacy Services, whether they were recently victimized or it happened years ago.

Ware says, “Services like these are really really important because for one, the process can be tricky to navigate if you’ve never had any exposure to the legal system, anything like that. Options can be many, but it can also be overwhelming. So having an advocate by your side too is just comforting. Sometimes you just need another person to be there with you, somebody to believe you.”

Both Ware and Garner say they may refer students to off campus resources like Safe Passage in DeKalb for additional help. Safe Passage offers services to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Their services include counseling, legal advocacy, abuse intervention, and short and long term housing.

Safe Passage also provides community education. Lynnea Laskowski is the group’s Communication & Prevention Services Director. She says the organization does presentations for K-12 students, as well as for adults. Laskowski says preventing abuse and violence starts with changing a culture.

Safe Passage Communication & Prevention Services Director Lynnea Laskowski

She says, “Part of that comes with educating our kids on what consent is from the earliest ages. Educating our kids on the fact that they have the right to say no if they’re uncomfortable. They have the right to tell someone if a situation is making them feel uncomfortable or isn’t speaking to their gut in the right way.”

Title IX and non-Title IX crimes can be reported to the NIU Department of Police and Public Safety or the DeKalb Police Department. DeKalb Police Department’s Deputy Chief John Petragallo says NIU is a generally safe campus, but the two departments communicate and work cooperatively to address student safety.

Petragallo says, “If you’re the victim of a crime, that’s your whole world at that point. So that doesn’t minimize the crimes that are occurring, but I think in general the campus itself is very safe."

As part of the cooperation between departments, the NIU Police Department can write DeKalb city ordinance tickets, and the DeKalb Police Department can write NIU judicial referrals. They also train together on important issues and meet frequently to share information.

NIU police officers patrol the entire campus area. Phillips says they also assign officers to an area north of campus, around Russell Road and Hillcrest Drive, because of its adjacency to campus and the large amount of student housing there.

The NIU Department of Police and Public Safety also have prevention programs like R.A.D. Self Defense training for women and the Huskie Safe Line, a shuttle service for students, faculty, and staff.

Look for the 2018 statistics in next year’s report, which should be published around October 2019.