Colleges are taking a closer look at crime-reporting procedures

The Clery Act seems simple enough:

Colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs — more than 6,000 schools nationwide — must let students and others know about crimes reported on their campuses.

But Penn State, in one of its many failings in the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse case, largely ignored the campus-safety law, according to former FBI director Louis Freeh’s report.

“Like the rest of the university, the football program staff had not been trained in their Clery Act responsibilities, and most had never heard of the Clery Act,” the report said.

Now universities here and across the country are re-evaluating their crime-reporting procedures, and in some cases making changes.

“Did the Penn State situation make us do things differently, did it make us take a second look at what we are doing? ... Well, we would be pretty silly if we didn’t pay attention and say, ‘How can we keep this from happening here?’ ” said Kim Vansell, director of public safety at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.

The 1990 law is named for Jeanne Clery, a Lehigh University freshman who was raped and murdered by a fellow student in 1986. The law requires schools to provide daily updates on every crime reported on their campuses, or on nearby university-owned properties, even if the crime is not verified.

Before the law, campus safety advocates say, most students went about their daily college life with a false sense of security, not knowing when, where or how often crimes were committed on campus.

None of the larger universities in Kansas or Missouri — and only one smaller school — is listed by the U.S. Department of Education as having been found in violation of Clery.

The department in November launched an investigation into Penn State’s compliance with the law. Results are forthcoming.

Experts on Clery have speculated that Penn State could see millions of dollars in fines, on top of the $73 million in penalties announced last week by the NCAA and the Big 10.

Stepping it up

Since 2007, the Education Department says, it has launched 78 Clery compliance reviews, closed out 34 of them and assessed fines in 10 cases totaling $1.4 million.

“For years DOE was doing some auditing and they weren’t fining, but they have stepped it up, and I think that is a result of some institutions getting really caught,” said Anne Glavin, president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

A school can be fined as much as $27,500 for each violation. If the violation is deemed serious enough, a school could lose access to federal student aid dollars, a penalty that in most cases could shut down a school.

The largest fine to date was imposed on Eastern Michigan University after a student was raped and murdered in her dorm room in 2006.

School officials covered up the crimes for two months, telling her family and the community that the woman died of natural causes, a federal investigation found. The university didn’t acknowledge the crimes until a fellow student was arrested and charged.

The university’s fine: $350,000.

The Clery Act drew attention again in 2007 after a shooting rampage at Virginia Tech that left 32 people dead. Campuses wrestled with how to comply with the part of the law that mandates that students, faculty and staff be promptly alerted about danger on campus.

A year after Virginia Tech, the FBI teamed up with the Department of Education to randomly review school procedures and policies for Clery compliance.

“Clery is so much more than crime stats,” said Maj. Chris Keary of the University of Kansas’ public safety office. “It is security procedures and emergency response, too, and it is not just the responsibility of the campus police; everyone in the campus community has a responsibility.”

Clery reports include crimes reported to police as well as those reported to other campus offices such as residence life, counseling services, women’s centers, athletic departments, health clinics and student activity sponsors. Any time a so-called mandatory reporter learns about a crime, he or she must tell the on-campus agency responsible for making it public and for passing the information on to the Department of Education.

Every university is responsible for compiling an annual report listing the totals for each crime. Schools are required to keep crime records going back seven years.

“It is challenging because there are so many facets to the law,” said Glavin, who also is police chief at California State University at Edgerton.

“Institutions have to stay on top of it. What it comes down to is training. Training is a critical thing for whoever on campus is the final authority for making Clery reports to the DOE.”

Regional schools

For the most part, an audit is conducted at a school after a tip of a possible Clery problem, Department of Education officials said.

That’s what happened at Lincoln University in Jefferson City.

A federal review committee in 2009 found that Lincoln had failed to fully comply with Clery. The review concentrated on 2008 and 2009 crime statistics required to be reported to the campus community.

The committee examined whether crimes were being correctly included in the school’s crime log and found several problems. One school report showed five burglaries in 2006, a year in which the school actually had 12 burglaries.

In another instance, the school reported two situations involving disciplinary referrals for illegal weapons on campus, but a report revised after the federal review lists eight such incidents.

Kent Brown, Lincoln’s general counsel, said the case was cleared in 2011 with Lincoln making all the Clery-required changes to the way it logs and reports campus crime. The school still has to make annual, detailed reports to the department on how it is handling Clery mandates.

“It was one of those situations where they didn’t find anything egregious; this was a problem with recordkeeping, not a coverup,” Brown said.

The Department of Education recently ran an audit of the University of Missouri’s financial aid services and touched on Clery, questioning campus police about how MU responds to the act, but found no problems, said university spokesman Christian Basi. DOE spokesman Chris Greene said records show MU has never been audited for Clery violations.

MU campus police get updates on Clery at least once a year.

“We make a very strong good-faith effort to be in total compliance with Clery,” said Police Capt. Brian Weimer. “We will report (a crime) if it is reported to us. We don’t have to prove it. But we can’t be everywhere at once. It’s so important for the entire campus to be aware.”

The University of Central Missouri has identified 400 people on its campus as mandatory reporters of crime. The school’s public safety office regularly reviews the list to make sure the right people are included and that they know their obligation to tell about any crime on campus.

Wichita State University this summer is hosting a training session on reporting campus crime for schools in the region.

Kansas State University has updated some of its policies related to campus crime, including one on sexual violence, said Karen Low, assistant dean of student life.

But she said K-State was ahead of the rush to check Clery compliance; it started the process a year before the Penn State scandal broke, after a letter from the Education Department reminded universities across the country to be diligent about reporting campus crime.

This month, Missouri State University in Springfield sent an electronic note to the campus community offering training on reporting crime on campus.

Missouri State also shortened the time the school takes to report a violent crime and tweaked wording in other crime-reporting policies to make sure people know what steps to take.

On this issue, said Penni Groves, the school’s interim general counsel, “university officials continue to ask themselves, ‘Are we doing enough?’”