NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – For Howard and Connie Clery, everything changed in 1986, when their daughter Jeanne was raped and murdered in her college dorm.
“They were not aware of crime that was happening on their daughter’s campus when she was killed,” said Alison Kiss, who now directs the Clery Center, aimed at helping colleges and universities focus on safety.
The Clerys worked to pass the Clery Act, which mandates colleges and universities that accept financial aid publish campus safety and crime information every year.
“It’s important and that’s what the purpose of these reports are, so we can be proactive and understand that environments that we’re sending children into,” Kiss said.
At Norfolk State University, however, parents and students may not have been getting an accurate picture of the environment.
10 On Your Side dug into Clery reports at local colleges, and found discrepancies in NSU’s reporting.
During another investigation into sexual assault on college campuses, NSU’s online report stuck out: zero sex crimes in 2016.
Chief of Police Troy Covington said he also found the number surprising, because it was wrong.
“To go online and see it for myself is an eye-opener,” he said. “I have to thank you all because again, it’s been up there since October so had you not brought it to our attention, so that’s the first thing we did, correct the data.”
In the days after 10 On Your Side contacted university officials about that surprisingly low number, the report changed online to show three sex crimes in 2016.
To stay in compliance with the Clery Act, Norfolk State officials also sent out an email to faculty, staff and students alerting them of the issue in the most recent report.
But 10 On Your Side also pored over previous years, and found that NSU’s discrepancies in sexual assault reporting go back to at least 2014.
“I can’t argue with your numbers,” Covington said. “The only thing I can do is promise to do a better job at fixing it.”
The chief came on board in 2015, about a year and a half prior to the department switching from a handwritten to automated system.
He points to that as part of the problem, and also says he made need to better train dispatchers and responding officers in communicating when they close out reports.
“The next step and the corrective action is reviewing our process,” Covington said. “We really have to take a strong internal look at ‘How did we get this wrong?’”
If NSU doesn’t get it right – they could be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines from the Department of Education.
But because Covington is making an effort to be transparent about the problem and fix it, the university may avoid punishment.
“Typically, we’ve seen if they ask for help and reach out to the Department of Education, the department will help them with that process,” Kiss said.
The Department of Education would not confirm whether or not it is investigating the university. Covington said that he reported the discrepancies to the department, and was not informed of any investigation into NSU.
The day after 10 On Your Side interviewed Covington, he emailed that he “convened an emergency meeting with my command staff […] to discuss our way forward after the interview. During this meeting we walked through how we were obtaining data and verifying the information.”
Covington also sent the schedule of what he called an “aggressive training plan” for officers in the department, aimed at covering basic policing and making sure reports are closed out correctly.
“You get in trouble when you don’t own up to something,” he said. “If you’re open and you tell people what you did wrong and how you’re correcting it, I think that’s the best way to move forward.”
Look for a follow-up investigation from 10 On Your Side in October, when federal law mandates that universities publish crime and safety reports.