School Security: Clery Act Compliance

Avoid these four common mistakes in reporting campus crime and security policies

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act) was signed into law in 1990. It requires that all institutions of higher education that participate in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crime and policies for their campuses.

The Clery Center for Security On Campus was founded as Security On Campus Inc., in 1987 following the 1986 brutal rape and murder of Jeanne Clery in her on-campus residence hall by another student whom she did not know. Howard and Connie Clery, along with a network of campus crime survivors and their families, led the public crusade to raise awareness about campus crime and eventually worked to advocate for the passage of the Clery Act.

Non-compliance with the Clery Act can be costly. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) can impose fines up to $35,000 per violation (increased from $27,000 in 2012) and also suspend those institutions from participation in federal student financial aid programs. In addition to the financial penalties, most violations turn into headline news. Here are a few recent cases:

• The most publicized case surrounds ED’s investigation of Penn State University, triggered by the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse conviction. ED delivered the results of its nearly two-year preliminary investigation to Penn State officials in July; however, the university is bound by law not to discuss the preliminary findings of the review.

• ED opened an investigation in July into whether Swarthmore College violated Clery Act regulations by failing to report sexual harassment and assault cases on its 1,545-student Delaware County campus in a timely fashion. A nearly identical complaint was filed in May by students at Dartmouth College.

• Yale University was fined $155,000 this year for Clery Act violations that happened in the early 2000s. The fines are due to an investigation that the education department began in 2004, where it had identified four forcible sex offenses on campus — two in 2001 and two in 2002 — that should have been included in the university’s annual report of crime statistics but were not. ED found that Yale had improperly defined its campus for crime-reporting purposes, omitting parts of Yale-New Haven Hospital that the university controls.

Clery compliance requires support from university administrators, leadership and external stakeholders, such as the Board of Trustees. It is not the sole role of campus police, public safety or security; however, often a single administrator on campus is charged with the responsibility of Clery compliance. This is a near impossible task for one person and should be approached from a team perspective.

To this end, the Clery Center just launched a pilot Clery Collaborative learning program wherein institutions of higher education enroll a team of 5-7 professionals representing different departments in a program that addresses Clery compliance through virtual and in-person learning, discussion boards and a centralized pool of resources.

The curriculum for this program was developed to approach compliance from a collaborative perspective. Through an analysis of program reviews, public record and findings available through ED, the Clery Center has identified the following common mistakes in implementing the requirements of the Clery Act:


1. Failure to Report Proper Geography

The Clery Act requires colleges and universities to report crime statistics and distribute warnings for certain crimes (consistent with the FBI Uniform Crime Report) in certain geographical areas (on-campus, on-campus residence halls, non-campus, public property). A common challenge that institutions face includes properly identifying non-campus buildings or properties, public property or separate campuses — as was the case for Yale University in the earlier example.

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