Most students concerned about their academic performance go to their professors’ office hours or seek extra help, but some, according to the Department of Public Safety, report fake crimes instead.
It is not uncommon, DPS Capt. David Carlisle said, for students to file reports of crimes that did not occur as a way of diverting attention from their grades. This phenomenon is particularly common around midterms and finals.
The most recent fake crime occurred just before spring break. According to Carlisle, a student reported being robbed near campus, but when DPS investigated the student admitted making the story up so his parents would pay less attention to his academic problems.
“We must investigate each reported crime, and, in the case of something serious like a robbery, issue a timely warning within a relatively short period of time,” Carlisle said. “These warnings increase the perception of the USC community not being safe. It is particularly frustrating when we have been working so hard to lower crime to change some people’s perception of our community and then have a student make something up.”
Concerned that false crime reports place an unnecessary strain on DPS resources and create unwarranted panic, DPS is now warning students that it plans to join LAPD and begin seeking criminal charges when fake crimes are reported.
“Filing a false police report is a crime. It contributes to an unsafe environment by misdirecting police resources, and it contributes to the fear of crime in the USC campus community,” DPS Assistant Chief John Thomas wrote in an e-mail.
DPS Investigation Det. Josh Voyda said reports submitted to DPS are reviewed by detectives from both DPS and LAPD. Even when the officers’ investigative experience tells them a crime doesn’t sound right, they still have to investigate it to prove it is a false report.
“We are not able to simply ignore a false report. We need to prove it is false in order to remove the report from our statistics, which need to be accurate if they are going to be useful to anyone,” Voyda wrote in an e-mail.
Thomas echoed this idea, emphasizing the strain on law enforcement resources.
“We still treat each reported crime as valid until there is overwhelming evidence and/or story inconsistencies that suggest that the crime is more likely to not have occurred,” Thomas wrote. “Obviously, by this time, many investigative hours by both DPS and LAPD officers and detectives have been wasted, and oftentimes the crime alert has been sent, and the perception or fear of crime continues to spread.”
Thomas said that usually a student will falsely report a crime in a location where DPS has cameras. When that happens, DPS reviews the footage from the location and if there is no evidence of crime in that area they inform the student. Many times, that leads to a confession.
Thomas noted that, despite DPS’ efforts, there are times when they cannot prove a crime is false and are forced to report it, inflating crime rates.
“While we may actually get some confessions that a student has made up that they were the victim of a crime, there are some reported crimes that, based upon our expertise [do] not add up. We never obtain an admission that the crime was fabricated,” Thomas wrote. “So, we can never know exactly what percentage of these crimes are falsified despite our suspicions.”
Currently, when a report is discovered to be false, the circumstances are submitted to the city attorney for review, Voyda said.
“Filing a false report is considered a misdemeanor. If the city attorney feels the case warrants criminal charges, they will initiate prosecution in court,” Voyda wrote.
To help crack down on false crime reports, DPS is now planning to refer students to the Student Judicial Affairs Committee and seek criminal prosecution.
Many students said they think it is harmful for other students to report false crimes.
Daniela Baumann, a junior majoring in biological sciences, said she thinks students who file false police reports don’t consider how everyone around them is affected.
“It scares people for no reason or gives the area a bad reputation when it isn’t that bad,” Baumann said.
Jiangyang Zhang, a graduate student studying electrical engineering, compared these false reports to people starting rumors, which causes the school to have a bad reputation.
“It’s a build up of a negative image and, because of the preconceived perspective that USC is not a safe school, it makes it easier to deteriorate the image of safety in the school,” Zhang said.
Carlisle pointed out that there are unlimited resources available from the university for students struggling with problems in or outside of the classroom to avoid these false reports.
“Filing a false police report is never the answer to one’s problems,” Carlisle said. “It only leads to more problems.”