GW has often struggled with being transparent enough for students. Thankfully, it seems that officials are trying to reverse that trend by adding information to the crime log.
The University Police Department crime log was recently updated to differentiate reported sexually violent crimes. This change separates sexual abuse reports from sexual assault reports. The crime log now reports whether crimes were referred to other GW offices, like the Division of Student Affairs or the Title IX office. University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said the department changed the crime log in the spring to show the public how domestic violence and sexual assault complaints are shared with the Title IX office.
UPD is clearly trying to be more transparent about crimes on campus, which is a start. But many community members still may not know how to access the crime log, so it’s doubtful that these updates are informing the community well.
Right now, anyone can contact UPD with a case number from the crime log, which can be found on UPD’s website, and request a full description of the crime. But it’s unrealistic to assume that average community members will take the time out of their days to ask UPD these questions.
UPD could and should provide us with more up-front information within the crime log and publicize the log via social media. The crime log is an important tool to help keep people safe on campus. We should be able to make use of the information the log contains.
The crime log is updated daily online, and each month the crime log updates to include the list of crimes that have occurred within the past year. The current crime log shows all crimes from Sept. 2015 through Sept. 2016. The log reports about a sentence on each crime: the date the crime occurred, the time it occurred, the location, where it was referred to and a short description of the crime. Those are helpful details, but they don’t give community members quite enough information. If the crime log provided more details on the types of crimes happening on campus, students and other GW community members would have more knowledge about campus safety. People probably don’t read the crime log too frequently to begin with, so even fewer community members are likely to read it with minimal descriptions.
Other universities’ crime logs include slightly fuller descriptions of crimes that occur on or near campus. Peer institutions the University of Southern California and Washington University give sentence-long descriptions of the crimes, which would be beneficial on GW’s log.
If officials want to prove how transparent the crime log is, UPD should also consider publicizing the crime log. When the log is updated each month, there’s no reason that UPD shouldn’t tweet out a link to the report. Students are already on Twitter, and UPD uses a Twitter account for breaking news and safety tips, so it would be easy to tweet out the crime log and help students use it.
UPD wants the GW community to learn about our safety on campus. Csellar said the department hosts outreach and education activities. For students to be active in safety efforts, we need information about crime in an accessible format.
Some students who don’t currently use the crime log might if they could access it via social media and if it had more comprehensive descriptions. With easy, publicized access to this information, students can choose whether or not to utilize it, without needing to go through the trouble of seeking out the resource. And by removing an obstacle of finding this information, more community members will probably be finding themselves checking the crime log at least once a month.
GW is making headway with their recent changes to the crime log. It’s a step in the right direction that shows more transparency, but there’s more that can be done. Now that the crime log is more transparent, GW should take additional steps to make it even more useful.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Melissa Holzberg and contributing opinions editor Irene Ly, based on discussions with managing director Eva Palmer, homepage editor Tyler Loveless, contributing sports editor Matt Cullen and copy editor Melissa Schapiro.
This article appeared in the September 26, 2016 issue of the Hatchet.