NEWS FROM SACRAMENTO Assemblymember Mike Gatto

Crimes that Occur in Schools Must Be Taken Seriously

Recently, several California colleges have been accused of covering up on-campus sexual assaults because of concerns that higher crime statistics would lead prospective students to choose elsewhere. While the full circumstances of these accusations is under investigation, one thing is clear: Victims of crime should not see their chances of justice hurt, nor should perpetrators be allowed to victimize others, because a school values its public image more than victims’ rights.

Simple communication between campus officials and local law enforcement will ensure greater community awareness and increased public safety. Unfortunately, the lack of clear laws regarding immediate campus crime reporting, and unwillingness of campus officials to involve proper law-enforcement professionals, greatly diminishes the chance that a perpetrator is apprehended. This, of course, can allow a perpetrator to strike again.

Current law regarding the reporting and investigation of crimes committed in educational settings is muddled. In the college and university setting, the only way to get crime statistics is within a university’s once a year “Clery Act” report, which is based on federal law. There is no simple or timely way for local police (who keep almost all crime stats) to analyze it, or to participate in the investigation of the crimes, and current or perspective students and their families are left almost entirely in the dark about campus safety.

For these reasons, I have introduced urgency legislation that would require colleges to promptly report on-campus crimes to local law enforcement. This legislation, AB 1433, strikes a balance between the right of a victim to remain anonymous, or not report a crime, and the need for crime reports to be taken seriously. It would require colleges to report certain violent crimes (like sexual assault and hate crimes) occurring on or near campus to local

law enforcement, unless the victim requests anonymity.

For K-12 students, who are predominantly minors, we cannot rely on self-reporting. Teachers, administrators, and other school officials must be empowered to report suspected abuse and given the tools to report abuse promptly and properly. That’s why I’ve introduced AB 1432, which addresses the lack of training on how to recognize and report child abuse in K-12 settings.

The California Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act requires certain professionals, known as mandated reporters, to report to law enforcement or protective services known or suspected instances of neglect, or physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Despite these requirements, current law does not require school districts to train personnel on detecting and reporting child abuse, nor does it inform them of their responsibilities or that failure to report is a misdemeanor punishable by jail time.

AB 1432 would address this problem by requiring school employees to complete reporting training. I’ve been working closely on the legislation with child advocates and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, after recent reports showed that several cases of abuse were prolonged because school personnel were unaware of their duty to report.

Crimes that occur in schools should not be treated any differently than those that occur elsewhere in our community, unless it is to treat them with even greater care and concern. California law needs to make sure that school administrators at all levels of education report these most serious crimes and empower our law-enforcement experts to investigate.

Mike Gatto is the chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the California State Assembly. He represents Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, and the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Atwater Village, East Hollywood, Franklin Hills, Hollywood Hills, Los Feliz, and Silver Lake.