Clery Center’s Response to ‘Clery Act Wastes College and University Resources’
The previous article that criticizes the Clery Act misrepresents the purpose and function of the law’s requirements.
I am writing in response to a recent opinion piece titled, “Clery Act Wastes College and University Resources” by Edward Davis as it misrepresents the purpose and function of Clery Act requirements. I am the associate executive director for and writing on behalf of Clery Center, and while we agree with the author’s perspective that public safety officers deserve support and funding as they work to create safer campuses, the article overlooked the ways in which the Clery Act guides those efforts and is a vehicle for institutions to garner those resources.
As a national nonprofit that provides training and education on the Clery Act, we work daily with institutions as they navigate challenges – and find solutions for – implementing its requirements. Although collecting and documenting data was a primary focus of Mr. Davis’ piece, these requirements go beyond just reporting statistics. While crime statistics are, of course, included in the annual security report, it’s the policy statements that represent critical actions. Actions required by the Clery Act that prevent and respond to campus crime.
For example, the article said that “parents and students need real-time information…that offer a window on what’s going on every day on campus.” We agree. Because of the Clery Act, if there’s an active shooter on campus, members of the campus community receive information in real time via emergency notification so they can take actions to protect themselves. This Clery Act requirement stemmed from the tragedy at Virginia Tech in 2007 and, for many institutions, is how public safety departments articulate the need for the “newest training and technologies” so that they are prepared to respond should a crisis threatening the safety of the campus occur. The Clery Act also guides real-time actions in instances of an immediate threat to a campus (like novel coronavirus COVID-19, which campuses nationwide are responding to right now), response to reports of missing students, response to victims of a crime, and many others. The author states that “school campuses are…often safer than their surrounding communities.” For the campuses where this is true, it is typically because of the professionalization of public safety, which is often attributed to the implementation of the Clery Act — it created transparency and consistency in campus safety practices.
The policies required by the Clery Act are the roadmap for how an institution responds when the unthinkable occurs. Those policies exist because of the Clery Act.
As our Senior Director of Programs, Laura Egan, always says, “The annual security report is not Harry Potter.” It’s not designed for students and parents to read from cover to cover; it’s a resource document, designed to be consistent and accessible across all campuses, that students and families can use to easily find the information they need in one central source. And the time when that becomes most important is if someone is harmed. The annual security report is an opportunity to make sure that you have effective, accessible policies in place and that the various departments responsible for those policies — public safety, student affairs, counseling, victim advocacy, emergency management, and many others — are working collaboratively.
If a campus finds that people can’t easily read or access the annual security report, we’d love to connect with them and share strategies other institutions have used to make the information easy to read and understand. And if the “production of the annual report is a massive undertaking that pulls resources away from critical campus safety operations,” that is perhaps a symptom of a campus that sees the Clery Act requirements as only a federal mandate for bare minimum compliance as opposed to an institutional responsibility and the blueprint for changing the culture around campus safety and security at our colleges and universities.
Abigail Boyer is the associate executive director for the Clery Center.