The New York Post is billing an "exclusive" this week about how Columbia University has systematically failed to report its drug-using student populace to police or prosecutors. The not-so-earth-shattering expose comes on the heels of last week's big frat house drug bust, which led to the arrests of 5 students. But it's actually a non-story because -- it turns out -- other city schools are just as bad, if not worse, at referring campus drug incidents to local authorities!
According to Columbia's 2009 campus crime report [pdf], last year the school witnessed 121 drug-related incidents in its dormitories that it referred for disciplinary action within the school, but which led to zero arrests by local law enforcement. Implying, as the Post noted, that the prestigious university failed to report any of those incidents to police.
Yet other city schools don't necessarily fare much better.
NYU's campus crime report
[pdf] shows 92 drug incidents referred for disciplinary action in its Washington Square-adjacent dorms and a staggering 520 incidents in its other dorms and facilities. But like Columbia, NYU reported zero arrests within its residence halls or facilities (although it did report 151 arrests on public property, which includes city streets, sidewalks, and Washington Square Park itself).
And even without the public property arrests, NYU's drug numbers still dwarf those of other city schools. Though to be fair, so does its student population -- NYU enrolls roughly 40,000 students and is one of, if not the, largest private university in the country.
Columbia, by comparison, has only around 28,000 students; and while the CUNY system enrolls more than 200,000 students, they are split among several campuses throughout the city. Other private schools, like the New School and Pace University, have as few as 10,000 and 15,000 students, respectively.
Pace University (which is, incidentally, neighbors with the NYPD), said it had zero drug-related arrests
on its Manhattan campus last year, but did not mention whether any incidents occurred that were referred for school disciplinary actions. (It certainly had at least one drug incident this year, when a Pace student selling marijuana from his Financial District apartment was fatally shot
How colleges report campus crime has traditionally been required and regulated by a federal law called the Jeanne Clery Act
. But the Clery Act doesn't require much specificity from schools when reporting the nature or severity of the crimes they report. It doesn't, for instance, force schools to say whether kids are caught with pot or heroin (or even whether they're merely using or dealing). A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, which is tasked with enforcing the law, said the agency does "not have a position" on these issues, merely that they "require the disclosure of the information that Congress requires in the Higher Education Act."
But Charles Sczuroski, a former sergeant with the Pawtucket, R.I., police department and a senior trainer for campus crime prevention at the National Crime Prevention Center, said it would be helpful if schools volunteered more specific information. "From a crime prevention perspective? Absolutely," Sczuroski said. "But from a practical sense, I think school officials could argue that, 'Hey, we're not the police, we're a higher learning institution."
"But as a parent and as a crime prevention practitioner, any time we can do a better job of reporting more accurately crime, I'm all for it," he added. "And I'm sure local law enforcement would probably appreciate that stance."
Still, there are times, Sczuroski said, when it's actually better for schools to handle drug offenses "in-house."
"In some cases, the students on campus would get more severe sanctions than if they were put through local drug courts," Sczuroski said. "It's not meant at all to be disrespectful to local law enforcement."
After all, in a city of 8 million people and more than 80 colleges and universities, it would be quite a burden on the police department to respond each time some kid lights a doobie at a frat party, right?
"If you call the police every time they have a party on campus, it would absolutely take its toll with the police," he said. "But I also think it's crucial to local law enforcement that if there is something bigger than that going on on-campus, they're included in some of the decision-making process."
Sczuroski said that, in his experience, school officials often work hand-in-hand with local law enforcement on major cases (like frat house drug rings, perhaps?).
"These campuses do not look kindly on the people who supply," he said. "They absolutely do not tolerate dealing in those cases."
Erin Duggan, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan DA, said her office "does have a history of partnering with colleges and universities in Manhattan when crimes have been uncovered."
"We're always encouraging our partners in the private sector, whether they be schools or banks or other institutions, to report crimes that they uncover to our office and to the NYPD," Duggan said. "Our office handles more than 100,000 cases a year and we would never discourage anyone from reporting a crime because we certainly have the resources to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute."
Spokesmen from Columbia did not respond to an e-mail about whether the university was involved in the investigation that led to last week's arrests (although police commissioner Ray Kelly told The Daily Beast
that it started with an anonymous tip).
Officials from the NYPD did not respond to requests for comment, but a spokeswoman for the city's Special Narcotics Prosecutor (who led the raid on Columbia's frat-boy drug ring last week) said the office, which focuses on felony narcotics cases that involve heavy drugs like cocaine and heroin, welcomes a chance to work with schools on fighting campus drug crime.
"Simple possession of user quantities of drugs would not be within our jurisdiction," she said. (Those crimes would traditionally be the DA's turf). But she said "if the NYPD makes an arrest and brings the case to us to develop an investigation, or if any of the universities have concerns about a problem and seek our assistance, we are glad to work with them."
But when it comes to reporting campus crime to the public (especially when competing over a prospective student's tuition dollars), New York schools face the additional problem of being so immersed in an urban environment, that it's often tough to tell what's "on-" and "off-" campus.
NYU, for one, acknowledges this. It tracks crime that occurs on "public property," which its annual safety report defines as:
"...all streets, sidewalks, and thoroughfares adjacent to on-campus facilities. For NYU, this means including the sidewalks and streets that are traveled by thousands of New York City residents and tourists every day as well as Washington Square Park, a public park that is visited by thousands of people each day. NYU shares a responsibility for safety in all of these public places but does not have jurisdiction over them. While this expanded area of reporting has produced greater numbers in NYU's statistical reporting, only a very small percentage involves members of the NYU community."
A school spokesman did not respond to an e-mail asking whether the school knows what percentage of "public property" crimes involve "members of the NYU community," or why it does not include such data with its annual crime report.
But schools can also use these varying definitions to spin the numbers in their favor. In 2008, NYU's student paper accused the school
of "skewing" crime statistics by defining "on-campus" crimes as only those that occur in buildings immediately neighboring Washington Square Park.
(The paper also claimed that NYU had "the second-highest number of [substance abuse] violations in the country," and that its "non-campus" statistics made up "a fourth of all non-campus drug and alcohol incidents in the nation.")
"If you look at the colleges from a safety perspective, you want clear boundaries between what is school property and what's the local neighborhood," Sczuroski says. "And some of the time, in the city you just can't. It makes it even more difficult because who's to say that this vendor or that vendor who's maybe outside the school isn't using that opportunity to peddle more than just hot dogs."
Some of Manhattan's Druggiest -- and Least Druggy -- Campuses, By the Numbers (2009 Data)
: 612 referrals for disciplinary action; 0 arrests
: 39 referrals for disciplinary action;1 arrest
: Did not report referrals for disciplinary action; 0 arrests