Feds reduce UM’s nearly $1M fine to $395K for inaccurate crime stats

University of Montana President Seth Bodnar announced Friday that the U.S. Department of Education has significantly reduced a nearly $1 million fine levied against the university last year for “inaccurate and misleading” crime statistics filed from 2012 to 2015.

The omissions in UM’s annual campus security reports violated the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crimes Statistics Act (the Clery Act).

Last September, DOE fined the university $966,614 for inaccuracies in its crime reports. UM appealed the fine, and the department reduced the fine to $395,000.

In an email message to campus on Friday, Bodnar said the university has a five-year payment plan with DOE, which includes monthly payments through 2024.

He also affirmed UM’s commitment to campus safety.

“It is important to note the errors identified in these past reports have to do with process and the categorization of crimes in the statistics that were submitted,” he wrote. “This is not an issue of the University’s efforts around prevention and response to crime. Our commitment to campus safety is unwavering. The University of Montana, like all other colleges and universities, must maintain a safe campus where all of our students can learn, thrive and grow. It is fundamental to our mission as an institution of higher learning, and we will continue our tireless efforts to ensure a safe, supportive and inclusive environment for all.”

The omissions noted by DOE when it levied the original fine included:

  • Eight crimes in UM’s 2013 report (showing campus crimes from 2012), including one “forcible” sex offense.
  • Ninety crimes in the 2014 report, including 52 so-called “liquor law referrals” and 34 “drug law referrals.”
  • Twenty-two crimes in the 2015 report, including six “forcible sex offenses/rape.”
  • Three crimes in the 2016 report (again for the previous year).

In a statement released Friday, UM spokeswoman Paula Short said the university has taken important and significant steps to address its Clery Act compliance, including the creation of a new committee specifically designated with the duty.

“The university has instituted changes aimed at ensuring compliance in how it classifies and reports crime statistics,” she said. “Specifically, a Clery Core Team meets every two weeks to review the campus police crime log and all reported incidents at UM. This is in addition to the UM Police daily review of the campus crime log.”

“Clery compliance requires keeping current on federal policies and guidelines, understanding the roles and responsibilities of campus officials and careful review and reporting of crime statistics to ensure accuracy in the Annual Security Report,” Short said. “We are building a strong compliance program to ensure we meet full intent and requirements of the Clery Act.”

The university’s current Annual Security Report can be viewed online at http://www.umt.edu/clery/doc/AnnualSecurityFireSafetyReport.pdf.