Reporting Rules Undermine Clery Act Goals
Lifting Burdens Would Help Law Enforcement Keep Campuses Safe
The reporting requirements of the Clery Act — shorthand for the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act — have become so burdensome for campus law enforcement officials that some suggest it should be abandoned altogether. The issue was recently highlighted by the keynote address delivered by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) to the Campus Safety National Forum in Washington, D.C.
McCaskill said the Clery Act “doesn’t accomplish squat” and “to be honest with you, I am okay removing the Clery Act completely.” She added that the Clery Act is “a waste of time pushing paper” and that her “goal is to remove it, or at a minimum, simplify it.” A McCaskill spokesperson has since clarified her statements indicating that she is “in favor of continuing to gather crime statistics that are actionable, and virtually everyone agrees that Clery statistics are not.”
The Clery Act, signed into law in 1990, requires all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crime on and near their campuses. The U.S. Education Department monitors compliance. It can impose civil penalties and suspend offending colleges from taking part in federal student financial aid programs.
Not surprisingly, McCaskill’s remarks have generated passionate criticism, most notably from the Clery Center for Security on Campus. In an open letter to McCaskill, the Clery Center asserts that the act “is more than just paperwork. It is meaningful policies that drive powerful action” and the Clery Act “keep[s] college students — our nation’s future leaders — safe. It is the most important work that we can do.”
The political context in which McCaskill’s comments were delivered bodes ill for lifting the crime-reporting requirements of U.S. colleges and universities under the Clery Act. In fact, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (also known as Campus Sexual Violence Elimination or the VAWA Amendments to the Clery Act) became law July 1. The VAWA increases campuses’ responsibilities under the Clery Act by requiring them to conduct prevention programs, add domestic violence and stalking offenses to the list of reportable crimes and to provide additional rights to victims and respondents of sexual assault.
Despite her comments at the Campus Safety National Forum, McCaskill does not appear to be in favor of eliminating the Clery Act entirely. The argument that she and others make is that publishing crime statistics at the detailed level required by the Clery Act adds unnecessary busywork to campus safety personnel workload and does not result in meaningful action. But others appear to be encouraged by McCaskill’s comments, saying they demonstrate a willingness, unusual among politicians, to do away with a law that is not serving its intended purpose.
Connie and Howard Clery spearheaded the Act after their daughter, Jeanne, was raped and murdered in her residence hall in 1986 at Lehigh University. In the years since, the Clery Act has directly impacted the way campuses disclose crime statistics and notify the campus community of crimes that pose a threat to students and employees. The Clery Act has been the driving force behind advancements such as rapid notification via text message, increased public access to campus crime statistics, and increased programming on sexual assault prevention. Institutions that receive Title IV funding must abide by the Clery Act or risk being fined or suspension or loss of federal student aid. In fact, in 2007, Virginia Tech was fined $55,000 for failing to notify students of an active shooter on campus. Two hours after the shooter killed two students, he killed an additional 30 people on campus. Had the victims been notified, it is likely that they would have evacuated campus and would be alive today.
The rhetoric about abandoning the Clery Act suggests that a tipping point has been reached and a critical mass of campus public safety personnel are effectively fed up with the onus of the reporting requirements. What some may interpret as McCaskill’s unconstructive speechmaking, is, in my opinion, an encouraging sign that fundamental change is nearing. The Clery Act has undergone amendments in 1992, 1998, 2000, and 2008, each time adding reporting requirements and/or provisions.
It’s crucial that the various reporting and notification elements remain in effect. But the reporting burden should be lifted to allow campus safety personnel to refocus attention on what matters most, the safety of the members of our campus communities. The reporting requirements imposed by the Clery Act should be streamlined, modernized and simplified.
Today’s most sophisticated technology should be made available to support this effort. A needs assessment would first be necessary to learn if improved technology would indeed result in meaningful change. The technology should be made available to every institution, public and private, to which the Clery Act applies.
Because the Education Department is responsible for enforcing Clery reporting, it should fund the creation, migration of data, training, and ongoing maintenance of a state-of-the-art database or other appropriate technology. To fund this enormous project, the Clery Center would need to develop a comprehensive proposal, including a budget of the expected up front and ongoing costs. The proposal should also include the estimated time savings and corresponding savings in personnel salary and benefits once the database is functional.
Once implemented, demonstrable reduction of the reporting burden would be the measurement of success. Some performance indicators would include the hours public safety personnel spend recording and reporting crime statistics, as well as the number of hours they spend out in the campus community. Clearly, the time spent reporting would be expected to decrease while the time spent on other duties related to campus safety would be expected to increase.
The concerns of campus safety personnel regarding Clery Act reporting are real.
The rules detract from the time they can spend in the community. When introducing yet another initiative, it will be crucial for leadership to make available additional resources as needed. Examples can include contract staff, or project managers, hired for the duration of the implementation.
Ultimately, campus leadership must demonstrate heartfelt commitment to the both the plight of parents and the concerns of law enforcement by openly recognizing that the goal of keeping students and the broader campus community safe is what unites all parties.
The author is director of the Faculty- Led Study Abroad program at San Diego State University, where she is also pursing an Ed.D. in Community College Leadership. A former Peace Corps volunteer, she has a bachelor’s degree from Humboldt State University and a master’s degree from the SIT Graduate Institute.