The Clery Act is a college journalist’s holy grail to reporting on campus crime.
The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Crime Statistics Act, or the Clery Act for short, requires that schools participating in federal student aid funding notify the campus when a crime has been reported. Virtually every college and university in the U.S., including private schools, falls under that category.
You can use the information Clery Act requires schools to disclose to report on campus crime — and to see what your school’s been doing right and wrong in the eyes of the law. The Department of Education has a handbook that details everything your school is required to report as part of the Clery Act, but here’s the basic rundown of what a student journalist needs to know.
- How can I use the Clery Act as a journalist?
- What should I do if my school isn’t providing the correct information under the Clery Act?
- Clery Act story ideas
How can I use the Clery Act as a journalist?
When a crime is confirmed and could be an emergency or an immediate threat to students’ safety, your school is required to send an alert to the community about it. This can be in the form of an email, text message, or phone call.
The first obvious use of the Clery Act for journalists is to see when breaking news occurs on campus.
Here are a few other ways the Clery Act can help with crime reporting:
Daily crime log
Under the Clery Act, your school is required to keep a log of every crime and alleged crime that happens on campus, and they’re supposed to update it every 48 hours. You can find this online through a quick google search. The Clery Act requires that entries for the past 60 days be available upon request. Your school also has to give you logs older than 60 days within two days of your request. The crime log must include a few key elements:
- The date the crime was reported
- The date and time the crime occured
- A description of the reported incident (ex: Simple Assault)
- The general location of the crime
- The current status of the complaint (ex: Criminal Arrest)
The log may also have the case number for the incident. This can help with filing public records requests at a public school. Including every piece of information on the crime log in your request should ensure the custodian (whoever is holding the record) knows exactly what report they’re looking for. The Student Press Law Center has more information about filing public records requests, including a tool that generates state-specific request letters.
If your school doesn’t update the log every 48 hours, you have a story. How long has it been since the last update? What does that mean for the campus, and why should students care? Remember that the school is bound by law to keep that log up to date.
The Clery Act also requires that an Annual Campus Security Report be published by Oct. 1. This includes policy statements and crime statistics.
Policy statements are any practices, procedures, or programs the school has to ensure the safety of the campus. Typically this part is dense, and something the average student won’t care to read. A student journalist, on the other hand, can digest that information and put it in plain English for the student body.
The annual report also includes crime statistics. The report has to include all Clery-designated crimes, which are split into four categories:
- Criminal Offenses: Homicide, manslaughter, murder, sexual assault, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, arson, etc.
- Hate Crimes: Any criminal offense or intimidation motivated by bias
- VAWA Offenses: Offenses under the Violence Against Women Act. These include domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking
- Arrests and referrals: Basically any law violation you can think of. Some include carrying and possessing weapons, and drug or liquor violations
The report has to detail every single Clery crime for the past three years — which makes it easy for journalists to compare how crime has changed from one year to the next. It should also have the geographic location of the crimes — whether it occurred on campus or off, or in on-campus housing. Has the number of reported rapes increased on campus? Have crimes in the dorms spiked since last year?
The Clery Act designates how schools must investigate domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. This means there are separate requirements from those of a normal disciplinary investigation into, for example, cheating on a test.
Here are some of those requirements from the Clery Act. [Refer to section (iv) of the document to see the requirements for institutional investigations into domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.]
Look into your school’s investigation process and see if everything lines up with the Clery Act. If not, students who are survivors of sex crimes could be going through a broken process — something your readers would want to be aware of.
What should I do if my school isn’t providing the correct information under the Clery Act?
There are a couple steps you can take as a journalist if your school isn’t keeping up with Clery Act requirements.
Report your school to the Department of Education
When your school is in violation of the Clery Act, that could mean you and the rest of the student body aren’t getting the crime information you’re entitled to.
If that’s the case, you can report your school to the Department of Education’s Clery Act Compliance Division. You can email them at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. If the Department of Education opens an investigation into your school’s noncompliance, it could take a couple of years for that investigation to finish. At that point, your school could be fined and made to change its policies.
Clery Act expert Daniel Carter told the SPLC’s Senior Legal Counsel Mike Hiestand student journalists shouldn’t feel reporting their school for Clery Act noncompliance is a violation of journalistic ethics. If so, we should link to it. He said it’s like disputing a denied request for records: if the public isn’t getting the information they’re entitled to and that journalists need to inform the student body, it becomes a necessity.
Check out the SPLC’s guide to auditing your campus’s Clery Act compliance.
Write about it
Because Department of Education investigations can take years, and you probably need those records now, put your school under public pressure by writing about their violations. To do this, you’ll have to get an expert on the record — one with knowledge of the Clery Act’s requirements.
If they’re willing to be quoted as saying your school is in violation, and you’ve documented those violations, it could influence the school to change their ways.
Clery Act story ideas
- Is your school up to date on the daily crime log?
- Was your school on time with this year’s annual report?
- How many crimes have been reported this year versus last?
- How many crimes have been reported at your school compared to schools of similar size in the area?
- Does the number of crimes on the annual report seem too low? Crime might go underreported at your school.
- (For public schools) Request every police report from the daily crime log and see what you find
- Get specific: Break down the numbers for every Clery crime in the annual report and compare it with past years.
- Put your school’s policies in plain English for students to read. You can find them in the annual report.
- Are your school’s institutional investigations into sex crimes compliant?
- Does your school fail to comply with the Clery Act in any way?
To learn more about the Clery Act, see SPLC’s student media guide to the Clery Act.
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