Reimaging the Crime Log: A Promise of Transparency

Every issue, The Student prints a copy of the police log with a tally of the week’s disturbances and police calls. It’s entertaining and light and an incentive for people to pick up a print copy of our paper. But, of course, the print issue does not exist this semester; and we’re returning to school in the middle of national protests surrounding police violence against Black people and a more critical eye of what constitutes a crime. Throughout the summer The Editorial Board re-evaluated our role in the community, in its structures of racism and how our coverage interacts with both. We asked ourselves whether our crime log glorified and normalized policing. We wondered if by publishing the crime log every week we were harming progress towards racial justice and more responsible policing. We implore our readers to engage in critical conversation and contemplation about what our college and our culture constitute as crime itself. But, we can only do that if you know what is actually occurring and counted among crimes. It’s important to inform the conversations happening on campus and across the country and show where there is police presence on campus. We believe there is a greater value to the community by airing the crime log than concealing it. In the coming year, we aim to provide transparency through the crime log and also on the crime log, how we compile it and what it represents. In this issue, we shed light on the past four months of crime log content. 

The raw, unedited crime log we receive from the Amherst College Police Department (ACPD) — which is available for the public at their office — can appear daunting and nebulous at first glance. What exactly does “suspicious activity” entail? How about “medical calls?” The specifics can sometimes be unclear, and part of the work we hope to accomplish includes demystifying how crime at the college is reported. As such, we’ve provided a summary of the frequency of the most common incident categories from May 1 to now in the crime log below, as well as a description of what each category generally means:

Number of crimes reported in each subcategory, May 1 to Sept. 6. Category names were taken directly from the crime log, except for “traffic incidents” (which combined vehicle stops with traffic-category events) and “all other incidents.”

Alarms combine intrusion alarms, which can be set off by trespassers but are often set off by accident, and fire alarms, which often represent minor incidents like burnt food or marijuana smoke. There were 98 reports of alarms, 35 of which were fire alarms and 53 of which were intrusion alarms.

“Suspicious activity” can mean a number of things, but they generally represent instances where ACPD investigates possible sources of crime but does not encounter anything major. This includes checking on large gatherings and non-college-affiliated people in accordance with the college’s Covid policy. There were 87 reports of suspicious activities.

Assistance activities indicate the provision of aid in a general sense, including well-being checks, redirecting lost students or helping staff in need. There were 24 reports of assistance dispatches, five of which were well-being checks, five of which were emergency call check-ins and 14 of which were general assistance.

Medical calls indicate requests for medical conjunction and are frequently done in conjunction with the Amherst Fire Department. There were 18 reports of medical calls, five of which required ambulance transport. 

Traffic incidents refer to either vehicles parked in prohibited spaces, motor vehicle accidents or vehicles stopped by ACPD while driving through the college. There were nine reports of traffic incidents, four of which were due to parking, three of which were vehicle stops and two of which were accidents.

Assisting another police department includes all the direct interactions that ACPD has had with other police departments, most commonly the Amherst Police Department. There were eight reports of times in which ACPD interacted with APD.

Larceny means most forms of theft reported on campus. There were eight reports of larceny, five of which were stolen bikes.

Animal complaints encompass all reports related to animal behavior on campus, such as injured or distressed animals. There were seven animal complaints.

All other categories not listed above were put into the “other” section, which largely represents categories that are too small to represent on their own. For example, incidents like arson, assault or the arrest of a person with an active warrant only occurred once, and so they are included in this section. There were 36 reports that fell into the “other” section.

Like all other articles printed in The Student, some editorial discretion is required. With privacy concerns in mind, we do not publish reports of wellness checks. Nor do we include restraining orders or other crime log entries that may put certain individuals at risk. As a newspaper, it is not only important for us to address the gaps in the logs we publish but also balance the critical role we play as a member of the Amherst community; we simultaneously hold the responsibility to share the truth and to protect and steward to community members. 

Beginning next week, on Sept. 16, the entry-by-entry crime log will be accessible online for the first time. In doing so, we hope to hone in on what makes newspapers, newspapers: boasting radical transparency and prioritizing accountability.