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Swipe policy change is not backed by public ND data

| Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Notre Dame claimed increased threats to campus justified revoking universal dorm swipe access. Public records indicate a decrease in cases handled by the Notre Dame Police Department (NDPD) between 2016 to 2018.

Shortly before the fall semester began, director of residential life Breyan Tornifolio announced at the end of hall staff training that Notre Dame would no longer grant students swipe access to dorms in which they did not reside, a change of policy from previous years that was sharply criticized by student leaders. The Observer reported that the Notre Dame administration made this decision to “increase safety” and to match the policies Notre Dame’s peer institutions had implemented. 

Notre Dame administrators have made it clear their intentions are to increase security measures on campus, including through more invasive means than are currently present. As The Observer reported, NDPD chief Keri Kei Shibata stated the police force is looking to install Closed Circuit Television Cameras to monitor dorm entrances and exits.

But Notre Dame administrators have been unable or unwilling to share data with student leaders that allowed them to come to these decisions. When asked by parliamentarian sophomore Thomas Davis if Notre Dame administrators would share the documentation used to make these decisions with the student senate, associate vice president for residential life Heather Rakoczy Russell responded that Notre Dame did not “own that data” they were using to make their decisions, and that Notre Dame administrators therefore were unable to share the data with student leaders.

Upon reading this, I felt disturbed by the lack of transparency that Notre Dame’s administration was showing and the lack of apparent care for student feedback shown by administrators. Surely, they could not have totally neglected internal data in their decision making, and there would therefore have to be some data that the Notre Dame administration owned that it could anonymize and share with student leaders. Perhaps, I thought, there would be something about this data that would not support Notre Dame’s decision. I began to look for ways to obtain data that would help to inform this decision when I stumbled upon the NDPD crime logs.

Notre Dame regularly puts out crime logs, which are available on a NDPD website. These crime logs detail the individual incidents that are reported to NDPD and Notre Dame’s administration gives brief descriptions of each case. Crimes that are reported to NDPD are assigned a case number, while violations handled by other University officials (for example, the Office of Community Standards) are not assigned a number. Multiple crimes that the police believe to be related are assigned to the same case number, while unrelated crimes are assigned to different case numbers.

Seeing the urgency of Notre Dame’s behavior to increase safety measures despite student pushback, one might believe that crime at Notre Dame has increased in recent years. After all, if crime has increased, then extra safety measures that restrict students may be merited. A careful analysis of public campus crime records, however, indicates that crime has decreased on campus in recent years, calling into question the wisdom of the decision to revoke swipe access.

Crime reported to NDPD sharply and significantly decreased between 2016 and 2018. The number of lines in the crime log corresponding to criminal incidents handled by NDPD fell 2.7% between the logs published in 2016 and 2017, and fell 11.3% between those published in 2017 and 2018. The number of unique cases handled by NDPD fell by an even greater rate: a decrease of 6.4% between the logs published in 2016 and 2017, and by a whopping 20.3% between logs published in 2017 and 2018. In other words, if the purpose of the dorm swipe policy change was to “increase safety,” it came at a time when crime had been significantly decreasing.

Students should not simply accept Notre Dame’s opinions on safety as fact when the administration is either unable or unwilling to present data to back up their justification for policies that significantly affect student life at Notre Dame. With the implementation of the off-campus exclusion policy (or as the administration calls it, “differentiation”) around the corner, it is important that student leaders do not take the Notre Dame administration’s justification for their proposals at face value. If Notre Dame seeks to create policies that are made to benefit students, all students should have the ability to provide input, and as much data used in making these decisions should be made public as possible.

Rather than announcing substantial policy changes right before move-in or in the week prior to final exams, I would encourage the Notre Dame administration to pursue a policy of obtaining public comments, much like any federal agency would do when making final rules. This would allow for policies to be subject to fair public scrutiny and provide an organized process by which all students could provide input to decisions that significantly affect campus life.

If our administration wishes to implement sound policy through bringing as many voices to the table as possible, it should take this stride towards transparency and implement it as soon as possible.

Mike Dugan


Jan. 14

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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