Report 2009-032 Summary - January 2010

California's Postsecondary Educational Institutions:

More Complete Processes Are Needed to Comply With Clery Act Crime Disclosure Requirements

HIGHLIGHTS

Our review of a sample of postsecondary educational institutions' (institutions) compliance with the federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act) revealed that:

  • One of the six institutions we visited did not provide us with a copy of the required annual security report.
  • Three institutions did not properly notify students and staff of the availability of certain crime statistics or security policies.
  • Four institutions either did not disclose or had not addressed all 19 security policies required by the Clery Act.
  • All six institutions reported inaccurate crime statistics to varying degrees for 2007.
  • Most of the 10 institutions we surveyed, which reported no crimes for 2007, did not have sufficient processes in place to ensure that they report accurate crime statistics under the Clery Act.
  • The California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office could increase its role in helping community colleges improve their compliance with the Clery Act.

RESULTS IN BRIEF

Under federal law, colleges, universities, and other postsecondary educational institutions (institutions) are required to report and distribute statistics regarding campus crime and to inform students and staff of certain security policies. Our review of California institutions' compliance with these federal requirements identified several concerns, including a failure to issue annual security reports, a failure to properly notify students and staff of the availability of annual security reports, a failure to disclose all required security policies, and a failure to disclose accurate crime statistics. The federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act) requires each eligible institution to issue an annual security report disclosing certain of institution's campus security policies and campus crime statistics. The Clery Act also requires each institution to distribute an annual security report to all current students and employees and upon request to any applicant for enrollment or employment.

The U.S. Department of Education (Education) has stated that providing students with a safe environment in which to learn and keeping students, parents, and employees well informed about campus security are goals many groups have voiced.1 Education believes that compliance with the Clery Act provides students and families with information necessary to make informed decisions regarding campus safety. When institutions do not comply with the reporting requirements of the Clery Act, they inhibit the ability of students and others to make informed decisions. Further, not complying with Clery Act requirements by failing to issue annual security reports and disclose campus security policies and crime statistics may increase the risk of federal financial penalties against institutions.

The concerns we identified varied in their nature and severity. For instance, one of the six institutions we visited did not provide us with its annual security report from 2008, which should contain campus security policies and crime statistics for 2005, 2006, and 2007. Also, three institutions did not properly notify students and staff of the availability of their crime statistics or security policies by using direct mail or e-mail, or distributing them to everyone required. Additionally, four institutions either did not disclose or had not addressed all 19 security policies required by the Clery Act.

Further, all six institutions we visited reported inaccurate crime statistics to varying degrees for 2007, the latest year covered by the most recent annual security report at the time of our fieldwork. Although most of the errors resulted in institutions reporting more crimes than they actually were required to disclose (overreporting), some institutions did not disclose all required crimes (underreporting). For instance, Ohlone Community College (Ohlone) included 28 crimes in its statistics that took place in areas outside of those required for reporting under the Clery Act. It also failed to report three other crimes—two sex offenses and a motor vehicle theft.

Several factors contributed to institutions' inability to fully comply with Clery Act requirements. For example, although Ohlone believed the information it provided through various sources constituted an annual security report, the handbook on complying with the Clery Act issued by Education's Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE) states that the report must be contained within a single document, and if the report is posted on the institution's Web site, it must be clearly identified in a single, separate part of the site.2 Also, although Ohlone and Mt. San Antonio Community College (Mt. San Antonio) each provided crime statistics and policies on their Web sites, they did not distribute the information or notify students and employees of its availability using proper methods. Additionally, Western University of Health Sciences (Western Health) stated that it provided the annual security report only to incoming new students and new employees. However, it did not inform current students and employees of the report's availability, as required by the Clery Act.

Additionally, four institutions either overreported or risked overreporting crimes because they obtained crime statistics from local law enforcement agencies for areas that are not required under the Clery Act. The Clery Act requires institutions to report criminal offenses that are reported to campus security authorities and local or state law enforcement agencies and that occur on campus; in or on certain noncampus buildings or property, such as off-campus housing; or on nearby public property. According to OPE's handbook and online tutorial, with respect to crimes occurring on public property, institutions generally need to report those crimes occurring on the accessible streets and sidewalks directly bordering the campus or in parking lots adjacent to and accessible from the campus. For example, Ohlone included in its statistics crimes that took place within approximately a one-mile radius surrounding the campus, an area clearly outside the geographic area required by the Clery Act. In addition, Mt. San Antonio requested information about crimes that occurred in a shopping center across the street from its campus. This shopping center is beyond the accessible streets and sidewalks directly bordering the campus, and therefore under the Clery Act the institution is not required to report crimes occurring there.

Further, differences in the definitions of some types of crimes contributed to mistakes by three institutions. California's definitions of battery and assault do not precisely match the definition of aggravated assault found in the Clery Act regulations and the Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook (UCR handbook) issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This caused some institutions to overreport batteries, which are not reportable under the Clery Act, as aggravated assaults, which are reportable crimes under the Clery Act. For institutions that underreported crime statistics, the apparent cause was errors in identification or judgments about certain crimes. For instance, one institution mistakenly omitted a vehicle theft from its statistics because the crime involved a motorcycle, not an automobile.

We also surveyed 10 institutions that reported no criminal offenses for 2007. Of these institutions, two did not provide information or documentation that specifically addressed the processes they used to report their 2007 crime statistics. However, the processes these institutions described for compiling and distributing the 2008 statistics, if followed, would help ensure that their crime statistics were accurate and properly distributed. Another institution seemed to have adequate processes in place for compiling its crime statistics, but its responses indicate that it did not properly distribute the annual security report. The remaining seven institutions described varying processes for compiling and distributing crime statistics that indicate they will have trouble complying with the Clery Act. For example, three of the seven institutions stated that they did not request information about off-campus crimes from local law enforcement agencies. The Clery Act requires institutions to make a good-faith effort to obtain the required statistics from local or state law enforcement and include this information in their crime statistics. Additionally, two of the seven institutions did not use or were unaware of written guidance available through OPE that should be followed when compiling and distributing annual crime statistics. In addition, four of the seven institutions stated that they have not been provided any formal training regarding Clery Act compliance.

Finally, the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office (Chancellor's Office) could increase its role in helping community colleges improve their compliance with the Clery Act. The Chancellor is the chief executive officer appointed by the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges (board). The Education Code requires the board to advise and assist the governing boards of community college districts on the interpretation and implementation of state and federal laws affecting community colleges. Two of the six institutions we visited and six of the 10 institutions we surveyed were community colleges. We saw no evidence that the community colleges included in our review had received guidance from the Chancellor's Office related to complying with the Clery Act. The Chancellor's Office informed us that although it currently does not provide any guidance to its community colleges on the Clery Act, it would consider it reasonable to provide limited guidance in the future. We believe that identifying tools related to the Clery Act, such as OPE's handbook and tutorial, as well as the UCR handbook, and informing community colleges of the negative effects of not complying with the Clery Act's provisions are appropriate steps the Chancellor's Office should consider taking.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To ensure that they provide students and others with a single source of information related to campus security policies and crime statistics, and to help avoid financial penalties, institutions should comply with the requirements of the federal Clery Act. Specifically, institutions should:

  • Issue annual security reports.
  • Include all required policy disclosures in their annual security reports.
  • Properly notify all students and employees of the availability of their annual security reports.

To help ensure that they comply with the Clery Act's disclosure requirements, institutions should:

  • Review and adhere to applicable guidance related to the Clery Act, including OPE's handbook and tutorial, as well as the UCR handbook.
  • Identify and provide sufficient training to those employees responsible for compiling crime statistics and distributing annual security reports.

To ensure that they correctly report all applicable crimes in accordance with the Clery Act, institutions should request crime information from campus security authorities and local or state law enforcement agencies. Further, they should carefully review all information for errors. Additionally, institutions should develop a clear understanding of the definitions of Clery Act crimes. For example, they could create or obtain a conversion list for crimes with differing definitions under the state Penal Code and the Clery Act, such as battery and aggravated assault.

To ensure that they include only reportable crimes from reportable areas in their annual security reports, institutions should request specific information from local or state law enforcement agencies. Such information can include addresses and details of specific crimes. If institutions wish to disclose crime statistics for areas outside those required by federal law, they should clearly distinguish those statistics from the ones required under the Clery Act.

To improve compliance among California's community colleges, the Chancellor's Office should provide direction to the institutions regarding the provisions of the Clery Act. This direction should include a discussion of the need to review and adhere to currently available Clery Act guidance such as OPE's handbook and tutorial, as well as the UCR handbook. The Chancellor's Office should also inform institutions of training opportunities for those employees responsible for compiling Clery Act crime statistics and distributing annual security reports. Finally, the Chancellor's Office should inform community colleges of the negative effects of not complying with the Clery Act.

AGENCY COMMENTS

Overall, the six institutions we visited and the Chancellor's Office expressed no major concerns with our findings and recommendations. In fact, many institutions indicated that they were already taking or had taken steps to correct the issues we identified.


1 U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education, The Handbook for Campus Crime Reporting (2005), page 9.

2 Education also provides an online tutorial as a companion to the OPE handbook, designed to give a better understanding of what is involved in Clery Act data reporting.


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