The consequences of Clery Act non-compliance
College and university police, public safety and security departments must remain vigilant about accurate crime reporting
In 1986, Jeanne Clery began attending Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She was looking forward to her college experience when she was raped and murdered in her dormitory room on campus by another student.
During the post-investigation, it was discovered that Lehigh University had 38 violent felony crimes that occurred on and near campus in the years leading up to Jeanne’s violent death. In response, Jeanne’s parents worked hard to force colleges and universities to be diligent about reporting crime in a timely manner so as to make students and their families aware of crime on and around university campuses, resulting in the Clery Act passing into law in 1990.
For college chiefs, public safety directors and administrators, the Act signaled a requirement to keep accurate and timely crime statistics and reports. Negligence or non-compliance with the reporting guidelines have moral, legal and financial consequences.
Clery Act and amendments
The Clery Act of 1990 has evolved since the signing of the Federal Code into law by then President George H.W. Bush.
At the time it was intended to serve students and their families by requiring colleges and universities that took federal funding to keep accurate crime statistics, conduct timely reporting and produce annual reports.
In 1992, the Act was amended to include language that said that crime reports were not covered as confidential education records. Further language in 1992 included a mandate that afforded survivors a “Campus Sexual Assault Victims Bill of Rights.”
Amendments made in 1998 included a provision that even final results from campus courts involving student discipline related to sexual assaults were no longer protected from disclosure from federal student privacy laws.
In 2000, the amendment to compel campus safety departments to include reports and statistics in their annual reports was mandated. This is a substantially different circumstance of reporting requirements than is necessary for the FBI Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) that some 18,000 law enforcement agencies submit crime reports annually. While most agencies submit the reports regularly to the FBI UCR, non-compliance is not dealt with punitively.
Fines for each unreported incident or inaccurate reporting based on Clery Act requirements went upward from $35,000 per occurrence to a nearly $55,000 fine today.
A modern cautionary tale of Clery Act non-compliance
The US Department of Education (DOE) began a six-year review of Clery Act compliance at the University of California at Berkeley over the years of 2009-2016.
The DOE review revealed numerous errors in reporting compliance including “….32,000 records were examined and of those 1,125 incidents were misclassified. Of those, 87 percent or 982 were cases involving the misclassification of disciplinary referrals for liquor, drug, and weapons violations. The campus referred students to the appropriate campus office for disciplinary proceedings, but wrongly classified the case for Clery purposes, indicating it was only a campus policy violation rather than a law violation.”
Additional errors were found in daily reporting requirements, including failure to issue annual reports, timely warnings and emergency notifications.
On September 10, 2020, after another two years of review, a settlement agreement of $2.35 million was made to the DOE.
Duties of campus police chiefs and public safety directors
Public safety directors and campus police chiefs need to remain diligent in their reporting. Any attempts to mitigate behavior and rationalize it as a disciplinary infraction goes against the moral and legal obligations and intent of the Jeanne Clery Act.
The campus chief should be an integral part of a university campus risk-management team. The Clery Act conditions are essential in spotting trends and problem areas. It may serve as a tool to identify victimization trends and address them through education.
Campus chiefs should also consider:
- Addressing problem chronic locations on campus with Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) assessments.
- Implementing campus police escorts to reduce the potential of late-night assaults on campus.
- Conducting disciplinary review of students with repeat, chronic negative conduct or criminal acts, to go along with being listed on crime reports when warranted.
- Ensuring regular review of Clery Act requirements are the subject of meetings with school administrators and faculty.
- Resisting any attempts to mitigate a clear criminal act to be changed or interpreted as a school infraction instead.
- Ensure clearly marked emergency alarms are available at several points on and near campus.
- Schedule regular meetings with student-led groups to build trust and review crime reporting procedures.
Impact of COVID-19 on Clery Act reporting
The DOE recognizes the threat the COVID-19 pandemic poses to students. Although many campuses may be virtual, some continue to house students and conduct face to face classes.
Clery Act notifications may be listed along with COVID-related health information on an institution’s webpage to serve as a regular reminder for students to take safety precautions.
US Department of Education. The Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting, 2016.