Beefing Up Compliance with the Clery Act

October 16, 2012 at 3:40 pm 3 comments

Gabriel Gates, Penn State’s Clery Act compliance coordinator, who started work in March.

Anyone paying even partial attention to the events over the past year at Penn State must know a little about the Clery Act. That’s the law that governs how universities report crime statistics, and in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, Penn State is being investigated for not complying fully with the act.

Penn State is beefing up its compliance (it hired a Clery Act compliance director, Gabriel Gates, in March), and as part of that, earlier this month I attended a mandatory training.

I’m the faculty adviser for a student group called Paws of Friendship, which raises money to buy toys for children in orphanages and does other community service projects. That makes me a Campus Security Authority, and therefore mandated by law to report information about a crime that I hear about in my role as a faculty adviser. (More on that in a minute.)

It was an interesting session, and I learned a little more about the law and what, exactly, it requires.

For instance, faculty members aren’t Campus Security Authorities. Neither are academic counselors or most staff members. The group does include faculty advisers to student groups, coaches, residential life staffers (including RAs), university police, and other security personnel hired by Penn State.

The law covers all public and private universities that get federal aid (which is just about all of them) and requires them to do these things: “collect, classify, and count” statistics about campus crime; issue alerts about campus crimes; publish an annual crime report (you can see University Park’s latest report, updated Oct. 11, and those of other campuses by clicking here and scrolling down); and reporting annually to the U.S. Department of Education.

The law also authorizes the Department of Education to impose a $27,500 fine for each individual violation of the act. Penn State will be fined, and it’s sure to be a record amount; president Rodney Erickson told the Faculty Senate this afternoon that he expects the Clery investigators’ report to be issued soon. The Department of Education can also withhold federal aid from a university, but that’s never happened. I’ve not read anything that indicates Penn State is in danger of this.

As a Campus Security Authority, my responsibility is this: If someone tells me about an incident that could be a crime, I need to tell that person that we must report it, but that I will do so anonymously unless the person wants his or her name to be used. It doesn’t matter if the person who tells me is a witness, victim, or perpetrator—or if the incident happened an hour ago, a week ago, or a year ago. And then I must report it.

The official campus security incident report asks for basic details and as much of a description of the alleged crime that I can provide. A particularly important part of the report is location, which goes back to how the law came to be.

The law is named for Jeanne Clery, who was raped and killed in her Lehigh University dorm room in 1986. In the aftermath, her parents lobbied for a national law requiring colleges and universities to report crime statistics; the law named for their daughter took effect in 1990. The issue mattered to them because they learned that there had been 38 violent crimes committed near where their daughter lived on campus. They believe that had she known, she would have been more cautious.

The Clery Act requires the report of crimes committed on campus, in a residence hall, in buildings or areas used for university events, and public property adjacent to campus. The last one is a little odd; I would be legally required to report an assault that occurred on College Avenue, but not one on Beaver Avenue.

Most of the people in my training class, like me, wear more than one hat. (I’ve got three: magazine editor, journalism instructor, Paws of Friendship adviser.) So, technically, if a student in my journalism class told me that he had been assaulted one night walking back to his dorm, or a student I interviewed for a magazine story mentioned she’d been robbed, I wouldn’t be legally required to report either to police. But I can’t imagine a situation in which I wouldn’t alert the police, and that was an important message in the training: When in doubt, report.

It’s also, of course, important to keep the safety and well-being of the students in mind. It goes without saying, I hope, that I’d call 911 if there were an immediate danger, and that I’d help a student find a doctor, a therapist, or anything else someone involved in a crime might require.

I’m required to attend a similar training every year for as long as I’m a faculty adviser. It’s pretty basic information, but there’s something to be said for keeping the issue in the front of our minds.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Deb  |  October 16, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    Why will Penn State pay a fine regarding the Clery Act BEFORE the perjury trials? If the defendents weren’t told the exact nature of the activing McQueary witnessed they could both be found not guilty, in which case there was no crime to report! I just don’t understand why the BoT is agreeing to shell out all this money before the FACTS are known (since the Freeh report is not a legal finding of anything!)

  • 2. Lori Shontz  |  October 16, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    Hi Deb — A Campus Security Authority doesn’t have to verify that a crime has occurred — that’s a job for the police. The Clery Act requires that anything that may be a crime be reported. That, in turn, gives the police the chance to investigate it. I wrote in the blog post the way it was explained to me: “If someone tells me about an incident that could be a crime, I need to tell that person that we must report it.”

    According to the Clery Act, the incident that Mike McQueary testified he witnessed in the locker room needed to reported to the police by any Campus Security Authority who heard about the incident, and that includes coaches and university police and security officials. No one at Penn State reported it, and that’s a violation of the Clery Act. None of them needed to verify exactly what happened — they needed to report to the police that a possible crime had occurred. Then the police would follow up from there.

    Hope that helps.

    Lori

  • 3. Mike  |  October 25, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    I took this training as well. I thought Mr Gates did an excellent job explaining a very odd law.

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