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Taking control of Clery Act compliance

Best practices in campus crime reporting
University Business, August 2013
In effect since 1991 and amended several times since, the Clery Act requires colleges and universities with federal student financial aid programs to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses.
In effect since 1991 and amended several times since, the Clery Act requires colleges and universities with federal student financial aid programs to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses.

This May, the news broke that Yale University had been fined $165,000 by the U.S. Department of Education for Clery Act violations. The charges against Yale are considered significant and serious: failure to report four instances of forcible sex offenses occurring between 2001 and 2002.

Yale is hardly the only institution to run afoul of the Clery Act, however. In 2007, Eastern Michigan University was fined $357,000 for failing to report the suspicious death of a female student whose body was found in her dorm room. And this spring, Swarthmore (Pa.) and Occidental colleges (Calif.) and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, were accused by activists of violating the Clery Act and Title IX, and the DOE is being asked to investigate. Students have also recently filed complaints against the University of Southern California; and the University of California, Berkeley.

Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security On Campus, says she isn’t surprised by all this activity. In fact, she expects that more institutions will face such allegations because more people are now aware of the requirements of the Clery Act.

Formally known as the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, it was named for 19-year-old Jeanne Clery, a Lehigh University (Pa.) freshman, who in 1986 was raped and murdered in her residence hall. In effect since 1991 and amended several times since, the Clery Act requires colleges and universities with federal student financial aid programs to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses.

It also obligates schools to issue timely warnings “if there is a current or ongoing threat to students or campus safety,” says Kiss. The DOE enforces the law and evaluates compliance through program reviews.

“When it was first passed, there was very little awareness of it, and of how to blow the whistle,” says Kiss, whose organization provides education and training on Clery Act compliance. “But now, thanks to the media and several high-profile cases, it’s gotten quite a bit of attention.” People see others going through the process and that offenders are actually being held accountable, and new allegations are being made, she explains.

Now, the Clery Center also fields a lot of calls from institutions as to how to improve training and compliance, says Kiss. They’re motivated not only by avoiding negative publicity, but also by the sizable fines: $35,000 per violation.

The compliance challenge

The Clery Act places numerous and intensive reporting requirements on colleges and universities. Institutions must:

  • publish an annual security report;
  • maintain a public crime log, disclosing crime statistics for seven major categories (which also have subcategories and conditions);
  • issue timely warnings about Clery Act crimes that pose a serious or an ongoing threat to the campus community;
  • devise emergency response, notification, and testing policies;
  • compile and report fire data and publish annual fire safety reports; and
  • enact policies and procedures to handle reports of missing students.

Adding to the challenge is that the act is dynamic, says Michael Webster, director of campus safety for McDaniel College (Md.). “It seems that it’s amended frequently.” The most recent amendment, the Campus SaVE Act, was signed into law in March 2013.

In Webster’s experience, which includes serving as chair of the government relations committee for the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, almost all institutions are making a “good-faith” effort to comply.

“But the regulations are highly technical and it’s easy to make a good-faith mistake,” he says. For example, schools must report the type and frequency of awareness programs, and some neglect to cite the frequency part. Or they forget that programs for both students and employees are required. “These oversights put them out of compliance and can trigger a program review or audit,” he says.

Webster suggests implementing a system of double-checks. If he writes a report, he has someone else knowledgeable about Clery, such as a peer at another institution, review it.

The campuses really struggling with compliance tend to make one person shoulder the primary responsibility, says Kiss.

“Sometimes there’s only one person with the training to understand what matters,” she explains. “There needs to be more than one person in each department trained on Clery.”

A frequent challenge for institutions is identifying, notifying, and training their campus security authorities (CSAs), says Steven J. Healy, managing partner with the higher ed safety, security, and regulatory compliance consulting firm, Margolis Healy & Associates. Because Clery requires institutions to collect crime data from these authorities, it’s critical to contact and prepare these individuals appropriately, he says. CSAs can be deans, directors, coaches, RAs, and other individuals with responsibilities for student activities.

“The other important dimension is ensuring the institution has committed the appropriate resources to manage compliance,” Healy continues.

Healy names Penn State, a client of his firm, as one of the few schools that has established a job position for managing compliance. However, he expects more institutions will do so, particularly considering the high costs of being out of compliance. He also advises establishing a compliance coordinating committee comprised of Clery stakeholders from various departments on campus.

“The colleges and universities doing a really good job of compliance have embraced the collaborative nature of Clery,” Healy says. “They understand it’s an institutional responsibility in which a number of individuals across campus play a role.”

Compliance best practices

A collaborative approach is the “most important tool a campus can employ,” says Blaine Nickeson, assistant vice president of campus relations at the Auraria Higher Education Center in Denver.

“Compliance with the Clery Act isn’t just a campus police issue, or a student life issue. It takes a multidisciplinary team to meet the requirements,” says Nickeson, who also is chief of staff at the center, which is home to Community College of Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver, and the University of Colorado, Denver. Officials there established an emergency communications team, which includes the police, to send out timely warnings and emergency notification messages as a situation occurs. This allows police to concentrate on responding to the emergency.

Other emergency-communication best practices at Auraria include prewriting and preapproving alerts so there’s no need to track down the president to get the OK to send out a required message, Nickerson says.

At California State University, Northridge, several departments collaborate on collecting the required Clery information, says Kit Espinosa, emergency management and preparedness coordinator. In addition to her department, police services, these stakeholders include student affairs, student housing, athletics, the student health center, faculty advisors to clubs and student organizations, marketing and communications, and human resources, among others.

Managing the information derived from all these sources is a Herculean task. Northridge analyzes data daily, weekly, and monthly rather than waiting for an annual review, Espinosa says.

The process also includes making a copy of every police report and using color-coded cover sheets for crimes pertaining to the following Clery Act categories: liquor, drug and weapons, simple assaults, and larcenies. Color-coding the cover sheets gives officials an instant visual of the types of crimes occurring in a given month, Espinosa explains. The sheets also have a checklist to help ensure an incident meets the criteria for a certain crime.

Training management

The sheer numbers of potential security authorities on any given campus can make identifying and then training them daunting.

Gabe Gates, compliance manager for Penn State since 2012 and responsible for 23 campuses, faced the prospect of wading through 28,000 employee job functions to identify CSAs. This also involved training all 52 of the university’s HR representatives to identify security authorities.

Across its system, Penn State had 3,000 CSAs who had to learn the reporting requirements. To manage this, Gates enlisted the help of the Clery Center. Kiss’ program, developed in partnership with several departments at the university, trains senior-level CSAs who then teach personnel in their departments. All CSAs at Penn State must take a class, followed by an annual online refresher course.

A third key step is tracking the training. “Once again we partnered with many different groups in HR, including their IT professionals, to develop a compliance tracking system,” Gates says. “This system tracks not only who has taken Clery training but also who has received a background check and who has received ‘mandatory reporter’ training—a separate requirement for folks working with minors.”

The Department of Education is currently reviewing Penn State, says Gates. He expects the review team will find areas of improvement addressing most, perhaps all, of the Department’s initial findings.

In Gates’ experience, more institutions, are now “very mindful” of the law and making sincere efforts to improve compliance programs, he says.

Healy adds that working on compliance is smart because there’s been an uptick in the number of program reviews—activity he anticipates will continue. “Congress has been very clear with the Department of Education that they expect compliance reviews,” he says. “That, and activism among students and others, has resulted in the department taking a proactive approach.” Pamela Mills-Senn is a Long Beach, Calif.-based freelance writer.