BYU's The Universe printed my Letter to the Editor (PDF of the newspaper.) I'll quote it here, then go into some more detail I didn't have space for in the letter.
The article “BYU’s crime rate sets it apart from other universities” (6/26) opens by quoting several frivolous Police Beat reports, quipping, “The amusing reports above are just a sample from BYU’s popular Police Beat, found in every Tuesday edition of The Universe with an extended version online. The crimes, for the most part, range from mysterious figures on campus to bike thefts.”
The self-righteous and self-aggrandizing tone of the article as a whole is offensive and unjustified, but I felt this light-hearted characterization of crime at BYU was especially insensitive in light of serious, damaging crimes that have been reported in the Police Beat. When I read it, I thought of a January 21, 2012 report: “A male student living in on-campus housing was arrested for sexual abuse. The individual had been fondling his roommate while he was sleeping. The case was transferred to the court office.”
Lest anyone think the situation couldn’t possibly be as grave as it sounds: The Daily Herald recently reported that former BYU student Antonio Rubalcaba Lacy, almost certainly the unnamed suspect in the Police Beat report, was convicted of six counts of forcible sexual abuse of two of his roommates.
I praise The Universe for reporting in February on the charges in this difficult case. I also agree with the gist of the crime article, which is that we are blessed to live in a community where crime rates are relatively low. However I would ask that all Universe journalists writing about crime at BYU, or even wider communities, respect the victims of actual, serious crimes by remembering that real crime is much more than silly anecdotes about mistakenly suspicious persons or stolen cookies.
I felt like I needed to speak out against the tone of the article and couldn't focus on anything else until I did, so I cranked this letter out (fairly meticulously, but in basically one sitting) and emailed it in. I hope doing it so quickly wasn't a mistake. I had misgivings about delving into a lurid crime, but I felt the best way to fight "Police Beat jokes" was to seriously examine a Police Beat report that was not funny. (I don't blame anyone for laughing at some of the stories in the Police Beat, but I took issue with a serious article about crime starting off that way.) I also didn't want to drag a name into it, but I wanted the information to be verifiable. I hoped the Universe would reject or edit the letter if anything was totally inappropriate. (I didn't notice any edits.) I recognize that citing this case could be construed as "using" it to make a point, something not unlike what I condemn – I apologize if anyone feels I have done so, or otherwise been tactless.
If you're wondering what I meant by "self-righteous and self-aggrandizing tone," you'll have to read the original article to judge the tone for yourself, but here's a sentence that got to me:
According to the FBI’s “Offenses Known to Law Enforcement” 2009 table, though BYU’s enrollment is just over 6,000 more than the University of Utah’s, the Utes take the cake in crime report statistics: U of U’s 604 property crimes to BYU’s 283; their 540 larceny-thefts compared to the Cougars’ 270; and two forcible rapes to BYU’s zero.
Read: "We're better than those heathen Utes. Property crimes, larceny, blah blah, and best for last: nobody reported a rape here, but two were reported there!" They "take the cake" – how disgusting! Fellow human being(s) at another school were raped at least twice, but that puts BYU up a few points on this writer's rivalry scorecard.
Underlying the distasteful back-patting in that sentence are more problems: Why cite old stats from 2009? The FBI has released Offenses Known to Law Enforcement, by State by University and College, 2010 and preliminary data for 2011. How is someone who was raped after 2009, or who was raped and didn't report it or didn't win a conviction, supposed to feel? Someone who was sexually assaulted in a way other than the FBI's "forcible rape"? At the time of the statistics cited, it was defined narrowly as "the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will" (source; see for more graphic description of what this really means.) To be clear, other sexual crimes will be prosecuted locally, but this comparison hinges on the FBI's reports on "forcible rape."
Sensitivity, definitions, and timelines aside, are these stats even a meaningful comparison? No! Don't take my word for it; here's what the FBI, the publisher of the report cited in the article, says: "UCR data are sometimes used to compile rankings of individual jurisdictions and institutions of higher learning. These incomplete analyses have often created misleading perceptions which adversely affect geographic entities and their residents... Data users should not rank locales because there are many factors that cause the nature and type of crime to vary from place to place" ("Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics: Their Proper Use"). Admittedly, the article does note, "Taking into account the downtown area and high volume of tourists [in Salt Lake City], it seems more justifiable that the U of U has a larger amount of crime," but in context it still seems to be only so that Provo and BYU can be called "a breath of fresh air" by comparison.
I am concerned with larger trends of prejudice, levity, and immaturity in connection to sex crimes around Provo/BYU. The Universe's Katie Harmer has probably done a better job than I would of exploring these issues in "Breaking the silence: The need to shed light on sexual violence". The efforts of Take Back the Night Provo, several groups holding benefit events for local assault survivors, and a volunteer Provo River Trail patrol are also encouraging.
Maybe I'm blowing this out of proportion and the joke's on me for taking several hours cumulatively to gather my thoughts and references on this, but I couldn't just say nothing.