Campus crime report compliance unknown
By Debra Erdley
Published: Friday, July 20, 2012, 10:52 p.m.
Campus crime reports that colleges post online suggest they are obeying a 1990 federal law that requires them to publicly report details of serious crimes, such as sex assaults. But federal authorities have audited just 34 of the nation's 4,700 colleges for compliance, so it's hard to tell for sure.
“Nobody has done an exhaustive review of a large sample of institutions to find out how many are fully compliant,” said S. Daniel Carter, a campus security consultant for two decades.
One university that hasn't fully complied: Penn State, according to former FBI Director Louis Freeh, whose firm investigated the Jerry Sandusky child-sex abuse scandal at trustees' request.
Freeh's team found the university routinely posts campus crime reports as required but fell down by not training a vast network of staffers in their obligation to disclose reports of crimes in and around campus, even if those reports don't lead to criminal charges.
The Freeh Report said that under the law, football coach Joe Paterno, Athletic Director Tim Curley and then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary were required to report a 2001 allegation against Sandusky to university police. Freeh found no such report.
Now, university officials are awaiting the findings of what many believe is the most extensive Clery Act investigation in the law's 22-year history — a Department of Education review of all university records involving sexual offenses from 1998 through 2011 and possible fines or sanctions. Penn State was not among the 34 schools that federal authorities audited.
“Penn State is a microcosm of higher education across the country. They put something in place, but didn't have institutional buy-in. I hope this is a wake-up call to colleges across the country,” said Carter, who works for a campus safety foundation established by the families of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting victims.
The Clery Act became law following the 1986 rape and murder of Lehigh University student Jeanne Clery. The law enhances safety on college campuses and requires sometimes-insulated institutions to make crime reports public.
The act's most extreme sanction — exclusion from federal student-aid programs — never has been invoked.
The law carries fines of up to $27,500 per violation. Records show that a dozen schools have paid about $1.4 million in fines since 1997. The largest include $350,000 levied against Eastern Michigan University for covering up the 2006 rape and murder of a student and $250,000 against Salem International University in West Virginia for failure to report sex-assault allegations in 2004.
Jennifer Storm, a Harrisburg-based victims advocate and author of “Echoes of Penn State: Facing Sexual Trauma,” said experts have questioned the accuracy of colleges' self-reported Clery compliance statistics for years.
“Sometimes when you have really good legislation come out of horrific circumstances like the murder of Jeanne Clery, unfortunately you don't have any enforcement. It's just another law on the books until another horrific crime occurs. Without having the ability to audit, it's hard to see who is following the law,” Storm said.
Federal compliance auditors have completed checks on just 34 of the nation's 4,700 colleges — that's one in 138 — since the Department of Education began random audits in 2007.
Slippery Rock University, 50 miles north of Pittsburgh, is among those audited. Department of Education records show that auditors in 2008 found only minor problems — police coded two burglaries as thefts, and officials posted their annual report 30 days late.
Slippery Rock police Chief Michael Simmons said the university hired a consultant in 2007 to audit its Clery Act program.
“We have complete institutional support. The safety directors and police chiefs of all of the 14 state system universities meet every quarter. One of the things we discuss is Clery. My direction is to be very diligent,” Simmons said.
Duquesne University spokeswoman Bridget Fare said Duquesne adopted its Clery policy when the act became law and has conducted regular revisions.
In Philadelphia, officials at Temple University on Tuesday announced creation of a task force to review the Freeh Report for any implications it might suggest for changes there.
“I suspect many organizations felt because they were providing numbers, they were in compliance. But in reality, we now know there are many other elements,” said Penn State President Rodney Erickson.
Penn State hired consultants to conduct training for its staff and revamped its policies after Sandusky, who is awaiting sentencing for sexually abusing 10 boys in and around campus, was arrested last year.
Freeh said that Penn State had failed to adopt a policy to enforce the Clery Act and that university police were told there were “other priorities” when they complained about lack of attention to the law.
A Department of Education spokesman said the agency doesn't have a projected date for the completion of its Penn State investigation.
“We'll continue working with all relevant individuals, including campus officials and law enforcement personnel, to determine whether or not there were any violations of the Clery Act. We are taking a close look at the Freeh report as well as all relevant information to determine how it may aid our investigation,” said Department of Education Press Secretary Justin Hamilton.
Allison Kiss, executive director of The Clery Center for Security on Campus in Wayne, Pa., said she's impressed with Penn State's new commitment to compliance.
“I would be surprised if a fine did not come down,” Kiss said.
Storm suggested the Penn State experience could produce benefits for others.
“Hopefully, this will spur more audits and make more universities take a look at their policies,” Storm said.
Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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