Clery Act’s role in security measure alerts for today’s universities
- By Stephen R. Aborn
- February 01, 2020
Decades worth of surveys have demonstrated that
families and students place campus safety and security
at the forefront of the decision-making process
when deciding on where to enroll. For example, in
a 2018 report, one of the most important factors for
parents was a safe environment. For students, this was the second
most important factor in the college selection process.
Keeping our nation’s college and university population safe and
secure requires the partnership of college administrators, law
enforcement and security professionals. Many campuses are ramping
up their security to ensure their students, staff and visitors continue
to remain safe and to protect their reputation as a secure school.
In April of 1986 Jeanne Clery, a 19-year old Lehigh University college
student was brutally raped and murdered in her campus resident
hall by Joseph M. Henry. At the murder trial, it was uncovered that
the attack on Clery was one of 38 violent crimes recorded at the university
in three years but were never publicly reported. Clery’s parents
sued Lehigh University and won.
The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus
Crime Statistics Act or Clery Act is a consumer protection law
that helps prospective students and families understand the safety of
one academic institution versus another. Signed into law in 1990, the
Clery Act is a federal statute which mandates that universities are
responsible for making public any crimes that happen on their
grounds every year. According to an executive summary of the act in
the Federal Register, “the Clery Act requires institutions of higher
education to comply with certain campus-safety and security-related
requirements as a condition of their participation in Title IV HEA
programs (i.e., federal financial assistance programs).”
Compliance is monitored by the Department of Education (DoE)
who can impose penalties per each violation. Noncompliance with
the Clery Act is very costly for colleges and universities. The cost for
a single violation for 2019 is $57,317. In addition to fines and punitive
damages, institutions can lose their financial aid funding and incur
significant damage to the institution’s reputation.
The Clery Act is about crime reporting and campus security
authorities (CSAs) are a critical part of the process. CSAs, which
includes campus security professionals, provide vital support and
create better outcomes across campuses. Often, CSAs are the frontline
safety and security resource for both students and faculty.
Timeliness Critical to Saving Lives and Reputations
“On the morning of April 16, 2007, student Seung Hui Cho shot a
man and a woman in a dormitory; both died from their wounds,”
reported The Washington Post. “Police initially believed the case was
a domestic dispute and that there was no threat to the rest of the
university, so school officials did not warn the rest of the community.
By the time Virginia Tech officials sent a warning hours later, Cho
had stormed through Norris Hall, killing 30 others and himself.”
Virginia Tech was required to pay fines from the DoE, but the
graver loss was the mass loss of lives, as well as the tarnished reputation
of the university. The deadly shooting at Virginia Tech forced a
conversation about whether the Clery Act timely warning requirement
provided enough of a mechanism to warn the campus about
immediate emergencies like an active shooter incident.
Today, campuses are required to implement a comprehensive
assessment plan and process to ascertain, if there is a significant
emergency or perilous situation, there will be a notification sent to
the campus community. Emergency notifications became a Clery Act
requirement in 2008 as part of the Higher Education Act.
Under the Clery Act, colleges prepare, publish and distribute an
annual security report that includes three years of campus crime statistics
and policy statements.
Timely Warnings Mandated by Clery Act
Active shooter incidents on campus raise questions as to how institutions
can best prepare for the unexpected, and prevent future incidents.
The Clery Act requires a structured campus crime response
which mandates timely warnings and alerting members of the campus
community if there are any immediate or ongoing threats.
Issuing an overabundance of timely warnings can diminish the
impact of the alert, so developing the particular criteria of what warrants
the alert is critical. The Clery Center, a national nonprofit organization
founded in 1987 that empowers colleges and universities to
create safer campuses, offers a checklist to help guide a comprehensive
and effective timely warning and emergency notification process.
“Developing policies and procedures and analyzing when it is or is
not necessary to issue a timely warning in response to a situation that
arises on campus can be a challenging task,” reports The Clery Center.
“Institutions are constantly weighing the needs of individuals versus
the needs of the overall community when making decisions about
how and when to issue such warnings.”
Hence, the creation of a ‘timely warning team’ is warranted. That
team generally includes public safety, private security, deans and key
stakeholders. The team should oversee the full breadth of the organization
without being too cumbersome as to become less effective.
Timely Warning Methodology
While the Clery crimes that warrant timely warnings include active
shooter, homicide, aggravated assault and weapons law violations,
among other things, the most important aspect of a reliable, potentially
life-saving timely warning system is that everyone who needs to
be enrolled is enrolled and that the data is 100 percent accurate.
Time-warning methods include text, email and website alerts or a
combination of methods. Campuses must disseminate a timely warning
if a Clery-specific crime occurs within Clery-specific geography
that poses a serious or ongoing threat to the community.
A recent occurrence at an upstate New York campus highlights
the critical role security professionals play in communicating incidents.
A female student shared a social media post with an Allied
Universal security team member that was written by her ex-boyfriend.
The post detailed his intention to assault her and her current
boyfriend and then kill himself. The campus security professionals
took her concerns seriously and assisted her in reporting it to local
Unfortunately, the social media post was not just a scare tactic.
Shortly after the incident report was filed, the ex-boyfriend was
spotted on campus, recognized by one of Allied Universal’s security
team. Through collaboration with local authorities, the security
team assisted in the peaceful arrest of the individual before any
harm was done.
There is no doubt that threats and risks exist. Reducing impact and
occurrence is achieved through prevention and vigilant adherence to
safety and security policies.
Clery Act Continually Evolves
Over the years, Congress has amended and expanded the Clery Act
to address emerging security threats. In March 2013, President
Obama signed Violence against a Woman’s Act (VAWA) 2013, which
strengthened Clery to address all forms of violent campus crime,
including sinister safety threats including cyberstalking as well as
other forms of Internet-related intimidation.
What are the most prominent, repeat type of Clery Act violations
that colleges and universities are making? James Moore, senior advisor
for Clery Act Compliance and Campus Safety Operations at the
United States Department of Education, said at Clery Compliance
Symposium, “We see the greatest number of violations in crime
reporting and policy development but timely warnings and emergency
notifications are areas that are common problems as well.”
Moore also serves as the federal government’s leading expert on
the Clery Act, the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, and
other campus safety and crime prevention initiatives.
“Compliance with the Clery Act is an institutional responsibility,
not just the responsibility of the public safety team,” says Moore. All
of the appropriate leaders need to understand requirements and
potential consequences of failing to communicate potential serious
or ongoing threats to the campus community. In today’s climate, this
failure to communicate is leaving low-hanging fruit on the tree for a
complaint against the institution for a violation of the Clery Act.”
University/Physical Security Partnership Crucial
Physical and emotional abuse is a growing threat on college campuses.
Security officers are trained to handle interpersonal abuse scenarios
by learning how to define, identify and respond to domestic
violence incidents, which can include rape and assault; stalking; verbal
abuse; threatening texts and emails.
The Clery Act has increased awareness of major crimes. Additionally,
the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE) requires
schools to be more transparent and accountable for a range of these
behaviors. Campus security professionals must know how to identify,
record and report incidents, and refer victims for help.
Today’s security officer is a proactive part of creating a safe environment
– prepared for hazards as well as actively promoting a safety
culture on campus. Perhaps the most dramatic shift is the switch from
security officers being behind-the-scenes enforcers and responders to
serving as collaborative promoters of the college’s culture.
Institutions need to work with their campus security team to conduct
“tabletop” drills on their timely warning and emergency notifications
procedures and processes to test effectiveness, and for process
improvement. It is important that results are documented and that all
findings lead to improved processes.
Effective campus security finds the right balance between creating
an open and free environment and upholding the duty to protect.
This starts with the acknowledgement that security must be part of
the campus’ evolution. The right solution balances expenditures
between staff, technology, facility design and crime prevention education
to develop a program that is effective, efficient and affordable.
With new expectations and growing responsibilities, the campus
security officer continues to evolve.
This article originally appeared in the January / February 2020 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.