Many schools struggling to comply with Clery Act requirements to report campus crime
Connie Clery knew something might be horribly wrong when she and her husband, Howard, returned from a business trip to Bermuda in April 1986. There were two police cars in front of their home, nestled in a Bryn Mawr neighborhood on Philadelphia’s affluent Main Line, and the family’s housekeeper was outside.
Soon enough, every parent’s most harrowing fear became a reality for the Clerys: They received the grim news that their only daughter, Jeanne, had been raped and murdered on April 5, 1986, in her dorm room at Lehigh University. Jeanne was 19 years old and rounding out her freshman year at Lehigh’s campus in Bethlehem, Pa., about an hour’s drive from her home.
“When they told me, I thought I would die,” Connie said.
The week after Jeanne’s funeral, devastated and desperate to find a way to cope with the loss, Connie and Howard set out to turn their family’s tragedy into a call for campus safety reform.
It would take years of crusading—telephone calls, meetings with officials and relentless research—but in 1990, their efforts produced a new federal law: the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act. In 1998 the law was formally renamed in Jeanne’s honor, and today it is commonly known as the Clery Act.
Along the way, the family would also in 1987 establish a nonprofit now known as the Clery Center for Security On Campus. At its home base in Wayne, Pa.—a few miles west of Bryn Mawr—three full-time and two part-time employees coordinate Clery Act training for school officials. They also provide educational programs geared toward students heading to college—all of this on a budget of about $600,000 per year.
At its most basic level, the Clery Act requires universities to publicize crime statistics and information on campus safety procedures. It seeks to give other families the information that Jeanne’s parents wish they had before she went off to Lehigh, a school with an idyllic campus and a rigorous academic reputation.
The law gets renewed attention whenever there is a major campus crime, such as the one at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, in which a student killed 32, plus himself, and wounded 17 in separate shootings about two hours apart.
In the last year, the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State has led to a federal investigation of whether the school had complied with the Clery Act.
More than a quarter-century since the crime that started it all, the Clery Act remains an ongoing challenge for many universities. These schools struggle to understand – and, in occasional cases, avoid paying attention to—the intricacies of their obligations for crime reporting under the law.
The irony in Jeanne’s death, Connie Clery notes, is that she was at Lehigh precisely because her family thought it was a safer school than her first choice. Jeanne had been accepted to Tulane University, but when her parents learned about a student’s murder close to the school grounds, they worried about her safety in New Orleans. They started looking closer to home, and that led to Lehigh. The family liked the campus; Jeanne liked her interview. It seemed a perfect fit.
What the family didn’t know until after Jeanne was murdered, though, was that Lehigh and its surrounding area had been the scene of violence. When they found out, the Clerys were shocked that information about crime was not made available to parents or students looking at the school. And they realized Lehigh probably wasn’t the only place where this was the case.
The Clerys’ reform campaign started with a petition advocating campus safety awareness. Connie tried canvassing the Bryn Mawr railroad station for signatures, thinking she would catch plenty of people on their commutes. That didn’t go very far.
“Everyone was afraid to be associated with us because they were afraid their kids would not get into college,” Connie said.
An eventual payoff
Eventually, though, there was a payoff for the years Connie and her husband, who died in 2008, spent pushing to change the way colleges talked about crime. In 1988—thanks to the support of legislators like Richard McClatchy, a state representative who lived near the Clerys and would become a close ally in their reform efforts—Pennsylvania passed a law requiring colleges to put together yearly reports on crime statistics and other safety information. By 1989, their work had resulted in similar laws in a dozen other states. That same year, the late U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter introduced legislation that resulted in the earliest version of the federal campus safety law.
Under the Clery Act, schools receiving federal aid are required to publish an annual report cataloging the rates of crimes like murder, sex offenses and robbery. The report, with a deadline of Oct. 1, is also supposed to break down these figures in terms of incidents both on campus and nearby, based on geographic definitions spelled out in the act. In these reports, schools also need to explain their policies for crime reporting and related issues.
In the two decades since it went into effect, sections have been added to the law addressing the rights of sexual assault victims, requirements for a daily campus crime log, and “timely warnings” of crimes that might pose a threat to the university community.
As recently as Oct. 2, the law was continuing to evolve. According to that day’s Federal Register, fines for Clery Act violations were adjusted for inflation so that they would carry a maximum of $35,000 each, up from $27,500.
Meanwhile, the Clery Center is backing yet another change to the law: the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination, or SaVE, Act, which would expand schools’ annual Clery Act reporting requirements to include crimes like dating violence and stalking. The SaVE Act also spells out expectations for a school’s approach to counseling services, prevention programs and disciplinary measures related to these issues.
At its heart, though, the underlying goal of the Clery Act remains the same—creating more informed campus communities and requiring universities to be honest. Connie noted, in a recent interview, “Most colleges have that in their mottos: ‘veritas’ ”—the Latin word for truth.
The Clery Act was meant to provide a way for students and families to make informed decisions about college safety, much as a family might ask questions about neighborhood safety when looking for a new house, said Frank Lomonte, director of the Student Press Law Center. The center’s primary function is offering legal help to student journalists—and access to campus safety records is a frequent topic of conversation. The Arlington, Va.-based agency gets questions about the Clery Act so frequently that it has posted a 4,000-word guide on its website.
Meanwhile, organizations like the Clery Center routinely conduct Clery Act training sessions to clarify reporting procedures, topics related to assembling the annual report, and so on. The center’s executive director, Alison Kiss, said her staff fields questions about campus crime each day from parents, students or school officials.
Schools sometimes left sorting through act’s gray areas
The Department of Education, the agency which oversees Clery Act enforcement and is conducting the Penn State investigation, has posted online a 285-page document, “The Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting.”
The handbook tells schools how to determine what geographic area bordering campus falls under the scope of Clery crime reporting. It also defines “campus security authority”—police officers, coaches, dormitory resident assistants and others—who are legally responsible for making sure a possible crime is reported.
The handbook uses hypothetical examples to show how schools should report Clery crimes in their annual safety reports.
One such hypothetical: “A female student reports that an unknown male attempted to rape her on a city-owned sidewalk outside a classroom building on campus, but that he was frightened away by another pedestrian before completing the attack. Classify this as one public property Forcible Sex Offense.”
Another hypothetical: If a student beats another student, breaking her ribs, during an argument at an off-campus house owned by a sorority, this is classified as “one Aggravated Assault in the noncampus category.”
In other sections of the handbook, schools can find a “Checklist for Campus Safety and Security Compliance” and sample documents showing how to compile a daily crime log and how to explain reporting requirements to employees.
Even with these efforts to clarify the law’s requirements, confusion remains.
At the University of Minnesota, Shannon McGoffin has been the point person for the Clery Act for a decade. She said that act, by its nature, makes it hard for schools to feel that they are fully complying.
“The law applies to so many different types of institutions—you have an institution that could be two classrooms in a strip mall all the way to our size of institution,” she said, noting that the University of Minnesota has many buildings in neighborhoods outside the traditional campus.
McGoffin also said the act’s gray areas can cause honest misunderstandings in what is expected. “One person within an institution might read it one way and one another, and you have to figure out a concrete answer,” she said. Thankfully, McGoffin said, she has received “clear answers” when she has brought questions to the Department of Education’s help desk.
Oversight a challenge at Penn State, other schools
At Penn State, red flags about Clery Act compliance were raised in the report issued in July by private investigators headed by former FBI director Louis Freeh. This report was commissioned by the university to investigate its conduct in the Sandusky case.
According to the report, Clery Act oversight at Penn State was assigned to one person in the university police department for more than a decade, and this person received no formal training.
Freeh investigators said at least three university employees were obligated under the Clery Act to make sure that a suspected 2001 sexual assault involving Sandusky and a boy in an on-campus shower area was reported to police. The report said former assistant football coach Mike McQueary, former football coach Joe Paterno and former athletic director Tim Curley all met the Clery Act definition of “campus security authorities.” Investigators said no record exists to indicate the men followed through on their duty to make sure the incident was brought to the police’s attention so it could be included in Penn State’s 2001 annual safety report or so officials could weigh whether it warranted a “timely warning” sent to the campus at large.
Curley—along with former Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz and, as of November, former Penn State President Graham Spanier—faces perjury and failure to report abuse charges, among others. Prosecutors assert that the former administrators knowingly concealed information about Sandusky’s abuse for years.
Schultz and Spanier didn’t technically have to adhere to the “campus security authority” reporting requirements, but the Freeh investigators were still critical of their response to reports of Sandusky and the boy in the on-campus shower. On page 110 of the Freeh report: “…given the leadership positions they held within the University, [Schultz and Spanier] should have ensured that the University was compliant with the Clery Act with regard to this incident.”
The report identified other issues mentioned over the years by people working with Clery Act compliance at the university prior to 2007. That year, according to the report, the person handling Penn State’s Clery Act report took his concerns about the school’s shortcomings to a supervisor, noting, “We could get hurt really bad here.” But investigators said serious reform efforts were largely stalled because of a lack of extra help, time and money.
Steve Shelow, now the assistant vice president for University Police and Public Safety at Penn State, took over as chief of University Police in 2005. At that point, he said in a recent interview “along with what seemed like a million other initiatives,” he tried to take a closer look at what Penn State was doing to follow the law. Over the next few years, Shelow said University Police began conducting training sessions with officials in athletics, residence life, student affairs and more. But attendance wasn’t mandatory, and the sessions often were not full. Starting in 2007, letters were sent to anyone whom Penn State identified as a “campus security authority.”
Shelow said University Police appointed Sgt. Stephanie Brooks to “help lead Clery compliance initiatives” in late 2006. But even then, Shelow said, “it was among all of the other responsibilities and duties that the sergeant was doing from day to day.”
S. Daniel Carter, a leading expert on campus safety, said the situation at Penn State was by no means the exception.
Carter currently leads the VTV Family Outreach Foundation, an advocacy group organized by families of those who died in the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. He formerly worked at the Clery Center for Security On Campus.
From about 1990 to 2005, Carter said the Department of Education was not doing much in the way of substantial guidance or enforcement—–“with a few high-profile exceptions.”
“As a result,” Carter said, “many institutions were genuinely ignorant about what was expected of them, and there was little incentive for institutions to take significant steps to ensure compliance because the chance of being caught was almost nonexistent.”
That changed around 2007—and for good reason. That year saw macabre headlines out of two universities. At Eastern Michigan, administrators initially asserted there was “no reason to suspect foul play” after a student’s body was found in her dorm room in late 2006, even though initial signs pointed to murder and the area was being treated as a crime scene. It took months for university officials to say otherwise. And in the April 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, the school drew criticism when it didn’t send out campus-wide alerts after the first shots were fired.
Also in 2007, the Clery Center for Security On Campus started translating guidelines included in a federal handbook into training sessions for universities. So, “with ignorance no longer a valid defense,” Carter said the federal government stepped up its random reviews in 2008.
“The overwhelming majority of institutions that have been a part of the random reviews begun in 2008 have been found in violation, often something they were completely unaware of,” Carter said.
Outside of a handful of random reviews in a sea of thousands of colleges, schools don’t have to answer to the federal government on a routine basis, said Frank Lomonte of the Student Press Law Center.
The reports are rarely audited, Lomonte said, and it often takes a highly publicized incident to prompt a serious closer look at an institution’s practices. Penn State is a case in point.
Families need to look beyond face value of figures
Making accurate appraisals of campus safety depends on the accuracy of statistics in schools’ annual Clery Act-mandated crime reports. And it is within those reports that the question of how to quantify campus crime can become complicated.
According to Department of Education data dating back to 2001, Big Ten institutions vary greatly in the number of “reported” incidents they are obligated to record. For example, Ohio State consistently reported at least a dozen forcible sex offenses—any incident involving unwanted sexual contact, including rapes and indecent assaults alike—each year from 2004 to 2010, with more than 60 in 2007 alone. The data for Penn State, meanwhile, showed reported forcible sex offenses in the single digits over the same time period.
“If a college the size of Penn State is reporting sexual assaults in the single digits, it’s almost certain that the college doesn’t understand the scope of its reporting obligations,” Lomonte said.
He said discrepancies between universities of roughly similar demographics are likely the product of faulty reporting, and that may be intentional or unintentional.
“You have to be caught doing something really, really bad in order to get sanctioned by the Department of Education,” Lomonte said, several weeks prior to the Clery Act fine increase. “Until the department really starts zapping people heavily for underreporting, you’re probably not going to see colleges spend a lot of money getting their numbers right.”
But the fines aren’t the only things schools should worry about, Lomonte said.
“The ultimate penalty is the penalty colleges pay in the damage to their reputation if they’re caught lying,” he said.
The Security On Campus director, Alison Kiss, points out that there is more at stake than bureaucratic noncompliance. If people look at the Clery Act-mandated statistics as the sole indicator of a school’s safety, they may wrongly interpret higher crime rates on one campus to mean that it is inherently more dangerous.
“If a University A and University B are of similar size and located relatively close to each other, and University A has 15 sexual assaults and University B has zero, the immediate assumption is that University B is safer,” Kiss said.
That could be the case, she said, but “zeroes across the board do not necessarily mean that the campus is safe.”
Higher crime figures could also mean that University A happens to be a place that promotes a culture where students feel comfortable coming forward if they have been attacked, she said. Or University A could be doing a better job of spelling out reporting procedures than peer institutions with lower figures.
And then there is another question: Is anyone paying attention to this information? According to the research, not particularly.
In 2002, an associate professor at Virginia Tech surveyed parents of first-year students during a summer orientation program at a “large research institution in the southeast” – concluding, ultimately, “Although most parents are talking with their sons and daughters about campus safety as they prepare to bring them to our college campuses, it does not appear that they use the information provided in the federally mandated reports in these conversations.”
Out of the 435 parents who responded, about one-fourth knew of the Clery Act, and about the same number remembered reading the school’s campus crime summary as part of the admissions material sent to their student. Before showing up to orientation, about 15 percent of parents surveyed had read the annual safety report for their students’ school.
Another study published in 2009—co-authored by the researcher behind the 2002 survey—found little faith from top officials that students were taking the Clery Act information to heart. Among 327 “senior student affairs officers,” 10 percent said students used their institutions’ annual crime report when choosing colleges and 15 percent said students read the completed annual reports. In terms of how this information influenced how students took steps to protect themselves or their property, only about a fifth of officials surveyed said the information in the reports had an impact.
“The research seems to indicate that, for the most part, the energy and emphasis devoted to the crime reporting requirements of the Act are ineffective and misplaced,” the 2009 study noted.
At Penn State, web statistics provided for the page hosting the school’s annual safety reports—www.police.psu.edu/cleryact—suggest wide fluctuations in readership over the last year.
The monthly tallies on unique page views during the last 15 months start at 206 in August 2011 and stretch as high as 5,853 in October 2011.
There were 1,433 views in November 2011 (the month the Sandusky case broke) and 1,474 in August 2012. Between December and June, the numbers leveled off to figures in the 200s and 300s. And as of Oct. 24 of this year, the page’s monthly tally was at 533. According to the statistics, most people who viewed the page were there only one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half minutes.
While the Clery Act is especially concerned with providing information to prospective students and their families, the tab addressing “Safety at Penn State” on the Undergraduate Admissions website does not link directly to the annual safety reports. It does, however, direct visitors to the University Police home page for more facts related to crime statistics and Clery-related information.
Shelow said the campus safety reports provide important safety information to students, families and others. But he acknowledged that there is room for improvement in getting that information to the people who matter. “There probably are better ways to promote it,” he said.
Shelow said students tend to get “inundated with a lot of information” when looking at schools. And, even as a veteran in the field of public safety, he is willing to admit that “crime data is, in my experience, a pretty boring read.”
Though it is a tough sell, promoting the information is vital, Alison Kiss said. One of her biggest frustrations is the persistence of laments from people who say they wish they had known more about crime rates, and their questions about how to speak up or how to seek help at their schools.
“Many times we hear from students, parents, administrators when it’s too late,” she said.
Sandusky case prompts change
The announcement of the Department of Education investigation has been followed by reforms at Penn State. The most significant of these was the appointment in March of Gabriel Gates as the university’s first-ever Clery compliance coordinator.
Before, the task of making sure all of Penn State’s 24 campuses are following the law rested on the shoulders of someone juggling other responsibilities within the police department. Now, Gates devotes his full attention to the issue. He works with departments across the university and stresses the importance of making sure everyone is clear on what kind of incidents should be reported and who is responsible for making the reports.
“Clery compliance is fairly straightforward for a small campus with a couple thousand people, one location,” Gates said. “But the complexity of having a huge institution with multiple campuses, hundreds of thousands of people living and working … It’s a huge task … not a lot of schools have put a lot of resources into.”
In 2012, Penn State rolled out campus-wide training for “campus security authorities,” instituting seminars to make certain employees—coaches, resident assistants and others—aware that they are responsible for reporting Clery crimes. So far, Gates said Penn State has identified about 3,000 employees who meet this definition, and about 2,500 of them have completed a new training program.
The rest are supposed to complete it by the end of the year. On Oct. 10, a new university policy went into effect specifically addressing the responsibilities of the security authorities and the university’s approach to the Clery Act in general.
Where its annual safety reports in recent years averaged about 24 pages, Penn State’s 2012 “Policies, Safety & U” report is 32 pages long—including a full-page cover photo and a table of contents—and packs much more information on crime reporting than ever before.
This year, too, Gates said Penn State sent its University Park report to the Department of Education lead program reviewer before releasing the final version as an extra precaution to make sure all required information was included—not a mandatory step, but Gates said it was helpful to have the agency’s “buy-in” before the report was finalized.
Penn State also audited past Clery Act crime figures for this year’s “Policies, Safety & U” report, which resulted in higher numbers for sexual assaults. But Gates said an increase in the number of incidents does not necessarily mean that a crime is occurring more frequently but rather that there is more emphasis on awareness and reporting.
Although Penn State could face penalties if the Department of Education finds fault in its past approach to the Clery Act, Gates said the school is poised to become a model institution. He is contacted frequently by officials at other schools who want to learn more about Penn State’s Clery Act strategy.
Penn State is working with the Clery Center and Margolis Healy and Associates, a campus security consulting firm, as it reshapes its approach to the Clery Act, Gates said.
At the Clery Center, Kiss said she had received requests from a few institutions to set up meetings with administrators. She takes this as a sign that schools are increasingly mindful that the law’s requirements are an institutional responsibility, not just a task to shift onto the police department.
That kind of request, she said, had not happened before Penn State came into the picture.
A mother finds solace in daughter’s legacy
If she were still alive today, Jeanne Clery would be 46 years old.
Asked to describe her daughter, Connie points to an essay Jeanne turned in the day before she died: “Growing Up In An Androgynous Environment.” It details an upbringing where the bright-eyed tennis player was nurtured to be strong-willed and an equal to her two older brothers. On the last page, a handwritten comment from the instructor lauds her “sense of self worth and direction,” noting, “You really gave your parents (and brothers) a tribute here.” After Jeanne’s death, the professor passed the paper along to her parents.
That paper, Connie said, “helped to save our lives.”
Today, Jeanne’s mother still calls Bryn Mawr home. A Roman Catholic, she attends mass regularly and followed the presidential campaign closely, saying that the last two decades had shown her how important “the power of the vote” can be.
Connie remains involved with the Clery Center. And no matter the complexities of the Clery Act or the challenges it poses for schools, she is convinced that it continues to save lives.
Lately, she takes particular pride in the story of two security guards at the University of California at Berkeley who in 2009 helped catch the couple who would eventually be convicted in the high-profile Jaycee Dugard kidnapping.
According to the Clery Center, officials Allison Jacobs and Lisa Campbell noticed Phillip Garrido’s suspicious behavior on campus and took steps to follow up when they thought someone might be in danger. Their actions led to the arrest of Garrido, who had taken Dugard hostage at age 11, and his wife. The couple were ultimately found guilty of rape and kidnapping. Dugard was also reunited with her family after 18 years in captivity.
At an event in early October celebrating the Clery Center’s 25th anniversary, Connie honored Jacobs and Campbell with this year’s Jeanne Clery Campus Safety Award. Established in 1994, the title’s given to “institutions and individuals that have done extraordinary things to make college and university students safer.”
Remarking on the Dugard case, Connie said: “Can you imagine the joy her mother must have had to get her back? That’s what makes me feel so satisfied, even though the horror of losing Jeanne never ends. But the beauty of knowing that her death is saving so many through the law ... ”
She paused, then finished her thought.
“What more could I ask for? It’s made my life complete.”
(This story was originally published in the Dec. 6, 2012 edition of The Lion's Roar)