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Remarks of Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

National Meeting on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention in Higher Education

Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Washington, DC

       Thank you, Kevin. I'm so pleased to be here. I want to thank Kevin and his wonderful staff for their partnership with the Office of Justice Programs. Coming from the field of criminal justice policy, I'm so grateful to have Kevin Jennings at the Department of Education. He's someone who understands that - as Secretary Duncan put it - "no school can be a great school until it is a safe school first."

       The Department of Justice has benefitted from a strong and productive partnership with the Department of Education. Much of that has to do with the commitment that our two leaders, Arne Duncan and Eric Holder, have made to partnership, but it takes people like Kevin to make that partnership bear fruit. So thank you, Kevin, for all your work. I just love working with you!

       I also want to thank all of you for your commitment to reducing substance abuse and crime on your campuses. I think too many people take for granted that our institutions of higher learning are peaceful havens for learning - and largely, they are. What I don't think they appreciate is the extent to which our college administrators and campus security personnel have made that possible.

       I came to OJP from a university setting. I headed the Masters of Science program at Penn's Department of Criminology, where I had the pleasure of working with University Vice President Maureen Rush, the head of Penn's public safety division. I was fortunate to see, first-hand under her leadership, how a concern for student safety can improve the quality of campus life.

       I'm of the belief that concern for student welfare should never be underestimated. It's true that statistics reflect how safe college campuses are compared to communities at large. But I draw a comparison with crime rates in the general population, which have been on the decline for the last several years.

       I think the reasons for the drop in the general crime rate likely have to do with community vigilance, good policing, and greater awareness of the circumstances that lead to crime. The same could be said about campus crime. No one's arguing that we should relax our attention to public safety outside the university, nor should we be casual about campus safety.

       What we should be doing instead - and this has been a top priority of mine and the Attorney General's - is trying to establish what works and institutionalize those approaches so that effective prevention and intervention strategies become part of the culture.

       This year is the 20th anniversary of the Clery Act. That groundbreaking piece of legislation, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, requires colleges and universities to disclose information about crime on campus, and it was later amended to provide basic rights and services to victims of sexual assault. I think it's worth a moment's reflection on how much that piece of legislation has done to promote security on college campuses.

       Colleges and universities once considered campus violence as off limits for discussion. Nothing good could come out of acknowledging crime - at least, nothing good for the administration. Meanwhile, those who were victimized were ignored and left to cope in silence, and the rest of the campus was kept in the dark about safety threats.

       The Clery Act helped to change that. It brought transparency to the issue of campus security, and it helped university officials understand the importance of disclosing crimes and security risks, both to victims and students and to the image of the institution.

       I think its most positive legacy has been that it's advanced the debate from whether to address campus violence to how to address it. Colleges and universities now are much more focused on solving a problem than on admitting one exists. This was a huge step in the right direction.

       Along with this change in mindset came some very concrete changes in policies and practices, particularly in the area of campus law enforcement. Security has come to be seen as a critical part of the campus administration's portfolio. Some universities - like Penn's - now have large private security forces. Others rely mostly on local law enforcement agencies to patrol campuses and respond to crimes. Still others depend on a mix of public and private roles.

       The bottom line is that campus law enforcement is now seen as part of the front line response in public safety. The key is to make sure the roles of campus security personnel and local law enforcement are clearly defined and closely coordinated.

       Through a project funded by my agency's Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Major Cities Chiefs Association surveyed 56 urban police departments and 177 campus public safety departments. What we found was that there's great disparity in the level of communication and coordination between local police and campus officials. Some local agencies have written policies and enjoy strong relationships with the campuses they serve, while others have infrequent contact.

       Although crime as a whole is low on college campuses, when it does occur, it can be a major - even catastrophic - event. The difference between containing the damage and loss and seeing it spiral out of control largely comes down to preparation. A case in point is what happened at the University of Texas three weeks ago.

       A young man armed with an AK-47 came onto campus one morning and began shooting randomly. News reports say that, within minutes of being alerted, the campus went into lockdown and police were on the scene. Although the gunman killed himself, no one else was injured. We can't say for certain what other factors may have contributed to the safety of the students, but I don't think it's a coincidence that the UT police and the Austin Police Department had already developed a relationship and trained together.

       That kind of collaborative working relationship is where we need to be heading. Last year, our Bureau of Justice Assistance published a set of campus security guidelines written by the Major Cities Chiefs Association that address issues ranging from risk assessment and emergency response plans to interoperable communications and media relations.

       The purpose of the guidelines is to help formalize relationships so that responses to crimes and other critical incidents are both swift and orderly. Every one of you knows the range of vulnerable threat sources on campus. The only way to address those potential threats is through agreements and protocols that lay out procedures for responding. As we say in the guidelines, "[a] critical incident that occurs on campus must be viewed as a managed crisis." And effective management is possible only through good planning.

       Assessing risk is, of course, part of that process. Our sister agency in the Justice Department - the COPS Office - supported development of a multi-disciplinary training curriculum on campus threat assessment. The goal of the training is to help campus officials - school administrators, campus security personnel, counselors, and others - identify people at risk for committing harm and give them the help they need to avoid violence. More than 700 people have already been trained.

       Ensuring an effective response to critical incidents is vital to campus security, but most crimes that occur on campus don't fall into that category. I mentioned earlier that the rates of most campus crimes are well below crime levels in the general population. There is one exception - sexual assault.

       Now, sexual assault is one of the most difficult crimes to measure, partly because it's one of the most underreported. But based on the data we do have, the likelihood of a college woman being sexually assaulted compares with that of a woman outside the campus setting. One study from our National Institute of Justice found that a campus with 10,000 women could see as many as 350 rapes a year.

       We also know that a vast majority of sexual assaults - around 85 to 90 percent - are perpetrated by someone known to the victim, and very often, alcohol is involved. Both of these factors help explain why only a fraction of rapes of college students are reported. In many cases - sadly - victims feel that they bear some responsibility for what happened.

       I think what we can take away from these statistics is that it's not enough that colleges and universities meet their obligations for reporting under the Clery Act. They also need to make sure help is available when a crime does occur. Many rape victims say they don't report because they don't know how, or because they fear poor treatment by police or other parts of the justice system. We need to change that.

       Several years ago, our National Institute of Justice conducted research on how institutions of higher learning were responding to sexual assault. The final report set forth a number of recommendations for schools on how to deal with this issue, including making sure adequate services are available, developing written response protocols, and providing prevention education to the general student population. Implementing these recommendations would go a long way toward improving the response to sexual assault on campus.

       Another of our sister DOJ agencies - the Office on Violence Against Women - has been actively working to address campus sexual violence. OVW has a program that helps colleges and universities improve their prevention and response strategies by supporting education, victim services, policy revision, and training for law enforcement, judicial boards, faculty, and staff. Since the program was launched in 1999, $98 million has gone to more than 300 institutions of higher education.

       This is part of a larger DOJ campaign to support colleges and universities in their work to address sexual assault. Early this year, I joined several of my colleagues - including the Associate Attorney General - in a tour of campuses across the country to raise awareness of the issue. I had the opportunity to visit the Aurora Center at the University of Minnesota and to talk with the young women there who had benefitted from its services. It was clear that Aurora - and programs like it - are making a huge difference for sexual assault victims on campuses throughout the United States.

       So, the Justice Department is helping colleges and universities meet their legal obligations under the Clery Act, but more importantly, we're helping them meet their moral responsibilities to the students in their charge. The first line of response - whether for individual crimes such as sexual assault or critical incidents where many students are at risk - is law enforcement. This includes the campus public safety personnel and the local law enforcement agency.

       Of course, the strength of the law enforcement response depends heavily on the campus administration. The message that the leadership sends about the importance of safety in their communities makes all the difference in ensuring a secure campus environment.

       Judging by your attendance here, I know you're not the ones who need to be convinced of this - and I want to thank you for your commitment. I would, however, ask for your help in spreading this message: The campus is a community, and like any community, the ability of its members to grow and thrive begins with a sense of security.

       I encourage you to continue working to create communities that are safe for learning and growth, and I salute you for your commitment to this work! Thank you so much.


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