Report Cards on College Campus Crime

In 1986, Howard and Connie Cleary’s daughter, Jeanne, a student at Lehigh University, was murdered on campus. In addition to founding the non-profit Security on Campus, Inc. in 1987, they lobbied for a new federal law that would require colleges and universities to disclose both ongoing and annual reports on campus crime and security policy.

Originally enacted by the Congress in 1990 as the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990, the law was codified as part of the Higher Education Act of 1965 and made applicable to all postsecondary institutions participating in federal student aid programs. It was renamed the Clery Act – specifically, the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act – after a round of amendments were made to the Act in 1998.

Annual report cards

The Clery Act mandates that schools publish annual reports by October 1st detailing the previous three years of campus crime statistics. Also required are explanations of existing sexual assault policies, statements attesting to a basic level of victims’ rights, a description of the campus law enforcement authority and contact information for students to report crimes.

When compiled and published each year, each school is to distribute the report immediately to all current students and staff, and notify applicants and prospective employees that it is available. Institutions may employ any of various means of notification, including e-mail and website postings, as long as each intended recipient is given the precise URL (Uniform Resource Locator, or web address) for the report. School officials must also make printed, paper copies available.

The report is also submitted to the U.S. Department of Education, which will then aggregate the findings of over 6,000 schools. The Clery Act crime statistics are the gold standard for American college campus crime data, even eclipsing the value of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, which collects data from a mere 400-some schools. A third trusted source of this data comes from The Chronicle of Higher Education, but the Clery Act reports are by far the best information available on crime at postsecondary institutions.

Crime statistic and categories

The definition of “campus” is important to understanding the data. Schools keep (and report on) statistics for crimes that occur directly on campus, on some off-campus facilities like fraternities and sororities (“Greek housing”), remote classrooms, in school vehicles (buses, trams) and in certain public areas that border school property. The county sheriff, local police forces, campus police and security personnel all contribute statistics and statements to the Clery Act report, as do other school staff, employees or officials that have “significant responsibility for student and campus activities.” Schools are encouraged, but not required, to have confidential reporting procedures. However, once they opt to establish such a system, they are then required to inform the campus community of its existence. As mental health professionals and ministers are exempt from the reporting obligations, a confidential reporting system could capture enough additional crime data to affect a school’s objective safety rating.

There are seven reporting categories for campus crime, several of which have additional sub-categories. The categories are outlined in the following manner:

  • Homicide
  • Murder and non-negligent manslaughter
  • Negligent manslaughter
  • Sex offenses
  • Forcible offenses including rape
  • Non-forcible offenses
  • Robbery
  • Aggravated assault
  • Burglary
  • Vehicular theft
  • Arson

There is also a lesser category (“incident”) that must be reported if there is a disciplinary referral to the campus judicial affairs office, or an arrest by a law enforcement agency. The incidents that require reporting include all types of liquor law violations, all drug law violations and weapons possession. Only the arrest is counted if a student is both arrested and given a school referral.

The Clery Act further requires that the data be mapped out, denoting the geographical areas as being on campus, campus student residences, non-campus buildings or “public property” such as parks, streets and sidewalks. In addition, the report must disclose if any reported crime was a “hate crime” under either state or federal law, or both.

Timeliness and responsibility

Unless a student is a victim, perpetrator or witness, the way most students even become remotely aware of the Clery Act is by the occasional “timely warnings” that schools publicize, as well as the separate, comprehensive crime log they make available for public inspection. The decision to issue a “timely warning” is a subjective one on the part of the school administration, and is normally considered only when a person or act is deemed to pose an imminent and/or ongoing “threat to students and employees.” The public log must be available for viewing by any interested party, not just persons affiliated with the particular school. The log must contain records of everything that is reported to campus police or security personnel, and is to be continuously updated in a manner specified by the Act.

Using the data

The crime information is not collected merely for the sake of amassing statistics. There is a very real responsibility on the part of postsecondary institutions to provide a safe and healthy environment for scholastic pursuits. Crime on campus, of all levels and kinds, is antithetical to the very notion of the university, a place of contemplation, problem-solving, creative beauty of every kind and the dynamism we associate with education, discovery and free inquiry.

Schools are dynamic, certainly. Constantly in a state of flux, altered by ongoing arrivals and departures and integrated to varying degrees with the surrounding communities, college campuses can be statistically safe yet still be the site of violent attacks, property crimes and even personal harassment. A victim is rarely comforted by finding out how low the rate is for the crime committed against her. She is, of course, 100% victimized.

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