The Harvard University Police Department changed its public crime log yesterday after a crime watch organization accused the department of violating federal law by withholding details about crime on campus.
All colleges and universities are required to maintain a public log that includes the time, date, and location of crimes reported on campus, under a 1998 federal law.
Last week, Security on Campus, a national nonprofit group, threatened to tell federal Education Department officials that Harvard had failed to abide by the law for the past six years. Security on Campus said that in some cases Harvard failed to disclose relevant details of serious crimes reported on campus.
''It's important that campus communities have complete and accurate information about crime on their campus, including when and where it happened, so that they can make informed decisions about avoiding victimization," said S. Daniel Carter, vice president of Security on Campus.
Harvard acknowledged that it has changed the format of its log, but would not comment on whether it previously ran afoul of the law.
Carter pointed to an entry that Harvard police made on July 6 that did not say when or where a reported sexual assault had occurred; it only stated at what time an officer was sent to interview a victim about a previous incident. That difference can be especially problematic for sex crimes, which are often reported days, if not weeks, after they occur, he said.
''[A] major campus police department such as yours has had ample opportunity to come into compliance with this requirement and the various specifics of it," Carter wrote to Harvard Police Chief Francis Riley July 15 in an e-mail obtained by the Globe. ''We are very disturbed by the fact that the Harvard University campus community has apparently in many instances been denied access to the specific dates, times, and locations of criminal incidents for nearly 6 years."
Riley responded on July 16, pledging to change the format of the log in an e-mail to Carter.
The online log changed yesterday. In the morning, it did not include the details of the sexual assault that was listed in the July 6 log; by midafternoon it noted that the assault had occurred on July 5 in a Harvard dormitory.
''Once Mr. Carter highlighted the formatting issue to us, we followed his suggestion and changed the format of the log to reflect the date the crime occurred vs. just the date it was reported," said Joe Wrinn, Harvard University spokesman. ''Now we will do both. It should be noted that at no time was a criminal incident not reported."
The conflict dates back to the spring, when a local crime analysis group alerted Security on Campus that it had difficulty getting details about on-campus crime from Harvard. James Herms, co-founder of the Student-Alumni Committee on Institutional Security Policy alerted Carter to the problem.
Carter began to investigate Harvard's police log. Carter met with police officials and followed up with Riley by mail and e-mail.
The e-mail Carter sent on July 15 said that if Harvard did not improve its logs he would complain to the US Department of Education, which under the Clery Act could fine the university up to $27,500 for each flawed entry, according to Carter.
But then the log changed.
Herms said he is still concerned Harvard may not be mentioning crimes reported to Cambridge police in the university log.
Stephen McCombe, a longtime campus security guard who retired from Harvard in fall 2003, said he knew of occasions when crimes near campus reported to Cambridge police were omitted from the university log.
Wrinn rejected the allegation, saying that university police take pains to list any crimes in the log that take place on or near the Harvard campus.