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The Clery Act: a comprehensive guide

The Clery Act establishes procedures and requirements for reporting crimes on campus

Colleges and universities are the foundations of advanced education around the world. Creating a safe learning environment is as much a part of their mandate as providing an exceptional education. Awareness is a crucial component of any safety strategy, and to that end, colleges must provide real-time notifications to their campus populations during threats and emergencies that occur on or near campus. They must also report data for crimes that transpire on and around their campuses.

These notifications and reports are a requirement in accordance with the Clery Act, a law that dictates how and when colleges must notify and report crime data to students.

What is the Clery Act?

The Clery Act of 1990 is a federal law that requires colleges and universities to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses. It was enacted after the rape and murder of Jeanne Clery, a student at Lehigh University in Louisiana. Jeanne's parents were shocked to learn that the university had not disclosed the full extent of crime on campus, and advocated for a law that would require colleges and universities to inform students, parents, and any other interested members of the public about threats to public safety on campus — both in the moment for active dangers, and in aggregate through detailed annual reports.

Since the Clery Act was enacted, it has played a significant role in several high-profile legal cases at colleges. Perhaps the most prominent was the Penn State child sex abuse scandal, during which the college was found to have violated nearly every aspect of the Clery Act. Penn State was ultimately fined $2.4 million for violating the act, the largest fine levied in the law’s history. 

Clery Act compliance requirements

To achieve Clery Act compliance, colleges and universities must issue timely warnings and emergency notifications when a crime that represents a “serious or ongoing threat to the campus community” transpires within these geographical areas:

  • Campus.

  • Public property within or immediately adjacent to campus.

  • Non-campus buildings or property frequently used by students of the institution for educational purposes or that are owned or controlled by officially recognized student organizations.

Timely warnings should be offered for certain crimes based on the judgment of campus safety departments based on the nature of the crime, risk of continuing threat, and whether the warning may compromise law enforcement efforts. Emergency notifications must be issued for any dangerous situation that involves a confirmed, immediate threat to the health and safety of students and employees in a covered area. This includes active shooter incidents, bomb threats, natural disasters, and similar situations.

Colleges and universities may issue warnings and notifications through text messages, push notifications to mobile devices, emails, classroom announcement systems, and other means. Students and staff empowered with this situational awareness can then take protective measures, minimizing potential harm from the incident in question and allowing campus safety officials to work more effectively.

Under the Clery Act, institutions must also disclose information about their campus security policies and procedures, including how they respond to emergency situations. This information must be made available to current and prospective students and employees. Crimes that must be reported include murder, manslaughter, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft and arson. Additionally, hate crimes, including those based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and ethnicity, must also be reported.

Noncompliance with the Clery Act can result in repercussions. The Department of Education can issue civil fines of up to $35,000 for substantial misrepresentation of crime data, and institutions may be required to return federal funds they received during the period of noncompliance. Some common violations of the Clery Act include failure to disclose crime statistics, failure to issue timely warnings and failure to report accurate crime data. Institutions may also be penalized for failing to have a designated Clery Act coordinator or for not properly training campus security authorities.

Colleges and universities are required to make their annual security report available to current and prospective students and employees. This report must be published by October 1 of each year and must include information about crime statistics, campus policies and procedures and campus safety resources. The report must also include information about how to report crimes and incidents to campus authorities. Institutions must also disclose timely warnings and emergency notifications to the campus community.

Law enforcement’s role

To ensure compliance with the Clery Act, institutions must issue timely warnings and notifications when necessary, designate a Clery Act coordinator and train campus security authorities on their reporting obligations, keep accurate and up-to-date crime statistics and make their annual security report available to the campus community. Additionally, institutions must review and update their campus safety policies and procedures, including their emergency response plan, to ensure they are effective in keeping their campus community safe.

Law enforcement agencies play an important role in Clery Act as they are likely to be the first campus organizations to be informed of emergency situations, and they must be on the front line of both responding to the event and keeping students and staff informed with real-time updates. Institutions must also work with local law enforcement agencies to collect crime statistics for their campus and surrounding areas. Conversely, law enforcement agencies must also report crimes that occur on or near campus to the institution's Clery Act coordinator. This collaboration creates a symbiotic relationship between the two, ensuring that accurate and comprehensive crime statistics are available to the campus and broader community.

Best practices for the Clery Act

Colleges must actively promote a culture of safety among students and faculty to ensure that Clery Act requirements are met. Failure to comply will not only result in fines but risk the safety of all students and staff on campus. Following sets of guidelines can help colleges achieve Clery Act compliance while also making an all-around safer campus.

Some best practices for campus safety under the Clery Act include:

  • Issue timely warnings: Institutions should issue timely warnings to the campus community when necessary to ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff.

  • Maintain accurate and up-to-date crime statistics: Institutions should keep accurate and up-to-date crime statistics and report them to the campus community in a timely manner.

  • Conduct regular safety audits: Institutions should regularly review and assess their campus safety policies and procedures to ensure they are effective in keeping their campus community safe.

  • Train campus security authorities: All campus security authorities should be trained on their reporting obligations under the Clery Act.

  • Promote awareness and prevention: Institutions should promote awareness and prevention of crimes on campus by offering safety education and resources to students, faculty and staff.

  • Collaborate with law enforcement agencies: Institutions should work with local law enforcement agencies to collect accurate crime statistics and report crimes that occur on or near campus.

The Clery Act promotes campus safety starts with transparency, and institutions must take their reporting obligations seriously, especially in emergency situations when lives may depend on it. The connected Axon Ecosystem serves as the ideal baseline for campus police and other assisting law enforcement agencies to keep their officers and the public informed during developing situations.

Body-worn cameras and aerial drones integrate with Axon Respond to create comprehensive, centralized situational awareness that can be distributed as needed. Meanwhile, Axon Evidence and Axon Records effectively streamline investigations and reporting down the line. To learn more about how Axon’s innovative solutions can help your campus meet and exceed the security requirements of the Clery Act, view the Campus Safety solutions page.