Report 2002-032 Summary - December 2003

California's Education Institutions:

A Lack of Guidance Results in Their Inaccurate or Inconsistent Reporting of Campus Crime Statistics

HIGHLIGHTS

Our review of California's education institutions' compliance with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act), revealed the following:

  • The Clery Act does not always provide clear definitions.
  • Institutions sometimes report inaccurate or incomplete statistics in their annual reports.
  • Institutions have significant discretion in identifying reportable locations.
  • Institutions do not always request sufficient detail on crimes from campus security authorities and police agencies to avoid duplication or exclusion of a reportable incident.
  • Not all institutions disclose required campus security policies and notify current students and employees of the annual reports' availability.

RESULTS IN BRIEF

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act) requires eligible institutions (institutions), such as public or private nonprofit educational institutions, proprietary institutions of higher education, and postsecondary vocational institutions that receive funding under Title IV of the federal Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, to prepare and distribute an annual security report (annual report). The annual report contains information about violent campus crimes; alcohol, drug, and weapon offenses; and existing security procedures. Each institution is required to distribute the annual report to all current students and employees, and to applicants for enrollment or employment upon request. However, it appears that no single governing body exists within California to provide guidance to institutions required to comply with the Clery Act on such matters as converting California's definitions of crimes to those reportable under the Clery Act.

We found that institutions sometimes report inaccurate or incomplete statistics in their annual reports because the Clery Act does not always provide clear definitions and the institutions must make judgments on which incidents they should include.1 In a few instances, institutions have developed their own policies, risking reporting statistics that are neither accurate nor consistent with those of other institutions. Further, one of the six institutions we reviewed did not maintain its documentation in a manner that would allow us to verify the incidents included in its annual report, making it difficult to determine whether it accurately and consistently reported incidents from year to year. If the United States Department of Education (Education) finds that institutions have substantially misrepresented the number, location, or nature of reported crimes, it may impose a civil penalty of up to $25,000 for each violation or misrepresentation and suspend or terminate the institution's eligibility status for Title IV funding.

The Clery Act requires institutions to report statistics based on the location of the incident, but because it does not clearly define location types, institutions have significant discretion in identifying the locations to report. Consequently, they may report inaccurate and inconsistent statistics to the public. For example, the University of California, Santa Barbara, omitted one of its noncampus locations.

Additionally, the Clery Act requires institutions to collect crime statistics from campus security authorities and state or local police agencies (police agencies). Institutions do not always request sufficient detail on crimes such as the time, date, location, and nature of an incident from campus security authorities and police agencies to avoid duplication or exclusion of a reportable incident.

Although the Clery Act requires institutions to disclose campus security policies as part of their annual reports, and to notify all current students and employees of the annual reports' availability, the institutions do not always do so. For example, City College of San Francisco (San Francisco) failed to include two of the eight policies required by the Clery Act. In addition, although five of the six institutions made good-faith efforts to notify their current students and employees of the availability of their annual reports through appropriate publications or mailings, San Francisco only puts a notice on its Web site and distributes the annual report upon request. Failure to comply fully with the Clery Act can leave students and employees unaware of serious issues affecting their safety at the institution.

Lastly, state law requires the California Postsecondary Education Commission (Commission) to provide a link to the Web site of each California institution containing criminal statistics information. However, as of September 4, 2003, the Commission's Web site did not include links to almost 300 campuses listed on the Web site of Education's Office of Postsecondary Education.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To provide additional guidance to California institutions for complying with the Clery Act, the Legislature should consider creating a task force to perform the following functions:

  • Compile a comprehensive list converting crimes defined in California's laws to Clery Act reportable crimes.
  • Issue guidance to assist institutions in defining reportable locations.
  • Obtain concurrence from Education on all agreements reached.
  • Evaluate the pros and cons of establishing a governing body to oversee institutions' compliance with the Clery Act.

To improve the accuracy and completeness of their data, California institutions required to comply with the Clery Act should do the following:

  • Retain adequate documentation that specifically identifies the incidents they include in their annual reports.
  • Establish procedures to ensure that they accurately identify all reportable locations and report all associated incidents.
  • Establish procedures to obtain sufficient information from campus security authorities and police agencies to determine the nature, date, and location of incidents.
  • Establish procedures to include all required campus security policies in their annual reports and to notify all current and prospective students and employees of the reports' availability.

To ensure that it provides a link to the Web site of each California institution that includes on that Web site criminal statistics, the Commission should periodically reconcile its Web site to the federal Web site.

AGENCY COMMENTS

California State University, Sacramento; San Francisco; San Diego State University; and the University of Southern California generally agreed with our findings. However, the University of California, Davis (Davis), and Santa Barbara did not agree with all of our findings. Davis disagreed with our finding that its inclusion of public property surrounding noncampus locations is inconsistent with the Clery Act. Further, Santa Barbara disagreed with our finding that it lacks adequate procedures to identify all of its noncampus locations.

In addition, five of the six institutions and the Commission generally agreed with our recommendations and plan to take specific actions to address them. Santa Barbara does not believe that it should establish a policy to define what it considers a timely response for disseminating information to the campus community on Clery Act reportable crimes. This is because Education has stated that it is not necessary to define timely reports. However, Education also stated that campus security authorities should consult their local law enforcement agencies for guidance. Thus, nothing precludes Santa Barbara from implementing our recommendation to establish a policy to define timely warnings.



1 The Clery Act requires institutions to report incidents of the crimes and violations shown in Appendix A that occur at reportable locations.



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