An Editor’s Note: The Clery Act: is it useful?

For the few who’ve known about my front-page story as it has developed, they’ve asked me the same question: Is the Clery Act a useful tool for letting students know what’s happening on campus?

My response – my opinion – is both yes and no. There are some aspects of the Clery Act that are very useful, but at the same time, there are other parts of it that can be questioned.

There are four main sections of the Clery Act: support for victims, emergency alert and timely warning protocols, policies and procedures and crime statistics. Often when there’s a complaint against a university on the Clery, it’s because of a violation of emergency alert and timely warning protocols or a complaint about the crime statistics.

If compiled correctly and honestly, the Clery Act can be a very useful tool for students to understand what crime looks like on their campus.

Some of the information students can find in FMU’s Clery Report concerns who students can report crimes to who aren’t police officers; how to report an emergency and to sign up for Swampfox Alerts; the rights of victims; alcohol and drug policy; emergency procedures (blood, flood, fire) and Title IX complaints.

Students can find some of that information elsewhere, such as the FMU Catalog, but other information, such as responsible employees and emergency practices, is located in the Clery Act.

That information is important to know. There’s a peace of mind aspect knowing that FMU has emergency procedures, and it can become useful if there is a complaint or a crime a student wants to report to someone other than campus police.

In that aspect, the Clery Act is a useful tool to inform students. All of that information is available online and in several locations across campus.

The main problem that I see is that there is an alarmingly low number of Clery Act watchdogs, or people whose jobs are to make sure everything is accurate in Clery Acts across the nation.

When the Clery Center first opened its doors, it was a watchdog organization. The Clery Center would help individuals file Clery complaints to the U.S. Department of Education, but now it won’t. Alison Kiss, the executive director of the Clery Center, refused to make comments on individual cases anymore.

In fact, several organizations, End Rape on Campus being one of them, won’t make comments or review cases for legal reasons. They won’t let somebody know if a case should or shouldn’t have been in the Clery Act.

The only way that a student, a newspaper or a concerned citizen can get their own second opinion (other than the Clery compiler’s opinion) is by either hiring a lawyer or filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.

And let me tell you – getting in touch with the U.S. Department of Education is hard. I tried.

So if there’s no external entity to go behind universities to make sure they’re reporting crimes accurately, then the whole Clery could very well be useless. As I mentioned earlier, audits occur on several sections of the Clery, not just the crime statistics portion.

So do I really think that we’ve had only two sexual assaults in the last three years?

I won’t answer. I don’t know. There’s a motive to keep numbers low, and from conversations I had early in the summer with university officials, they’re proud of FMU’s low numbers. At the same time, I reviewed several hundreds of police reports and couldn’t find more than a few cases that raised my eyebrow, but that could just be a matter of coding the reports, since I only requested one code.

The Clery Act, and double-checking the Clery Act, is a complicated, multi-step and multi-faceted event that is no easy feat to accomplish as a journalist. We need more watchdog organizations to make sure universities are reporting accurately.