Take Your Clery Compliance to the Next Level

Since the passage of the Clery Act in 1990, crime reporting at many colleges and universities has significantly improved. Records management products, however, can help schools achieve even greater accuracy.

With last month’s 20th anniversary of the brutal rape and murder of Jeanne Ann Clery, there is no better time to review the tools available to help the nation’s universities and colleges track and report crime on campus.

Probably the most significant recent Clery Act development has been the U.S. Department of Education’s publication of The Handbook for Campus Crime Reporting, which was released last year. The clearer definitions and terms, particularly with regard to sexual assaults, have helped schools more accurately report incidents.

Additionally, stiff penalties have proven to be effective in motivating colleges and universities to get their personnel trained on reporting incidents and providing timely warnings about dangerous situations on campus.

But keeping track of everything required by the Clery Act can be difficult no matter how often campus officials read the Clery Handbook or receive training. To address this challenge, there is a whole host of software and records management products out there designed to make Clery compliance easier.

One Size Software Doesn’t Fit All

Much like people who require various sizes or kinds of clothing depending on their shapes, needs or preferences, the same can be said for incident management software. The highly integrated and multifunctional software used by an urban university with 40,000 students would probably not be appropriate for a rural college with a student population of 2,000 (or vice versa).

For example, California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), which has a student population of approximately 35,000, has a computer aided dispatch (CAD) system from VisionAir based in Downers Grove, Ill., that integrates the school’s arrests, citations and field interviews, as well as other aspects of crime reporting.

With smaller schools, however, CSULB’s CAD system would probably be overkill. Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, Minn., which has a combined student/staff population of approximately of 3,300, does not require as much functionality. According to Ray Thrower, director of safety and security for the college, “I’ve seen a lot of software companies that really start off well, but their software becomes too complicated for the end user.

“Periodically, every software company will do a major overhaul to their whole system,” says Thrower. “When the particular company [we had previously used] did it, we had to go down to the trainers for a one-week school. When we came back, we were still confused about how to use the software. It was more powerful than we ever needed, but it was too complicated for the average patrol officer to be able to use.”

Most Systems Are Expandable

To address the issue of scalability, often records management systems vendors provide modules or components that can be activated upon the request of the campus. In Thrower’s case, for example, his college changed software providers and now uses Smart Public Safety Software based in Cedar Falls, Iowa, which has a Clery portion than can be enabled for campuses. The complexity of the software provided can be shaped according to the school’s needs.

According to Sheryl Stering, corporate accounts manager for Milwaukee-based Competitive Edge Software Inc., the maker of an officially approved Clery incident reporting module, her company’s software is also designed to make the reporting process more efficient. “People can actually print their public crime logs from the program and do their full Clery reporting, including statistics and annual reports with all of the subsections that are required,” she says. “Once things get entered, department personnel can at the end of the year compile their Clery statistics and literally have them in 30 seconds.”

Other campuses, like Delaware State University (DSU), have systems that tie in directly with that of the state. DSU’s Clery reporting is made much easier because Delaware law mandates outside agencies record and provide Clery information. According to DSU Chief of Police James Overton, “I can just put in Dover (Md.) police and have the Dover police statistics from all over the city right at my desktop.”

Tracking Other Crimes Still Tricky

For the most part, however, universities and colleges must still go directly to agencies in surrounding areas and request Clery-reportable incident information. This can be a significant operational obstacle when multiple jurisdictions are involved.

Another challenge, regardless of the records management system used, is the fact that campus police departments must also obtain information about other on-campus incidents, like alcohol violations that are reported to judicial affairs or resident advisors but not to public safety.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Whether a campus uses a fully integrated CAD system, a more simplified records management product or even a simple Excel® spreadsheet to track its Clery-reportable incidents, one truth is constant: Regardless of which entity reports an incident, the information entered needs to be accurate.

As a general rule, software vendors do not automate Clery definitions in their applications. As a result, colleges and universities must have well trained personnel who follow uniform guidelines and properly classify incidents to ensure accurate reporting.

“What you must have is good quality control,” says Phillip Johnson, associate director of security police at the University of Notre Dame, which uses dispatch and records management software from New World Systems (Aegis) of Troy, Mich. “You need to have people who understand Clery, and you need to have trained staff who understand how to classify cases appropriately so that a burglary isn’t classified as a larceny.”

Buying? Do Your Due Diligence

A campus should thoroughly investigate the various records management systems available before deciding on one solution.

Proprietary software in particular can be problematic. Many businesses and institutions have switched software vendors only to discover that their data was basically being held hostage by their previous providers because the information was stored in a format that was not accessible by third-party tools. The vendors holding the data were then able to charge the organizations exorbitant fees for their own information.

A college or university should have access to its data and not have to rely on the vendor for retrieval. Greg Pascal, CSULB’s communications, records and information supervisor says, “I’m very, very cautious about going into a program that offers some sort of proprietary database or some nonstandard database back-end because these companies can go away.”

This point leads to another issue: vendor reliability and longevity. A software provider should have a good track record and excellent references. Even more reliable are the recommendations of other users already familiar with the product being considered.

Whether the system purchased is a fully integrated CAD product or simple module, making the right software decision can help any campus improve its rate of Clery compliance.

Robin Hattersley Gray is Executive Editor of Campus Safety Magazine. She can be reached at [email protected].

For the complete version of this article, please refer to the May/June 2006 issue of Campus Safety Magazine.

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About the Author

Robin Hattersley Gray

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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