Looking Further At Campus Police And Their Role In Tracking Violent Crime

November 4, 2021

By a Biometrica staffer

In 2019, the last year for which data is available, a total of 5,998 post-secondary institutions (across almost 11,000 campuses) reported 34,933 criminal offenses to the federal government, and 17,758 offenses related to violence against women, be that rape, murder, assault, stalking, or date rape.

A few weeks ago, we wrote about the case of Kristin Smart and how her 1996 disappearance led to monumental legislative change in the state of California, in regards to the relationship between law enforcement agencies and campus police/safety organizations. Today, we examine the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990 (CACSA), which governs crime reporting requirements for universities that receive federal aid. 

Pseudo-police departments had started to crop up at universities in the 1960s and 1970s, when protest movements for civil rights and against the Vietnam War were common. These units were conceived with the understanding that they would have closer ties to the campus community than larger law enforcement agencies, and would thus maybe be more effective.

Also considered a “consumer protection law,” CACSA was designed to boost transparency in relation to potential dangers on university campuses, making amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1965. It was later renamed, in 1998, to the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, in honor of the eponymous student. When Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 2013, it further enhanced the Clery Act.

Jeanne Clery was raped and murdered in her own dorm room in 1986, by another student she did not know. Lehigh University, Clery’s school, had not disclosed information to students or the public about 38 violent crimes that had occurred on campus in the three years before her murder, prompting her parents to call for CACSA to be enacted.

Clery’s murder was a pivotal moment in changing the approach to safety on campuses, as was the 2007 rampage at Virginia Tech, which was the deadliest mass shooting in the nation for a significant period afterward. Notorious incidents such as this, and the Kristin Smart disappearance, prompted legislative change that, in turn, necessitated expanding campus police departments to keep up with federal reporting guidelines.

Under the Clery Act, all post-secondary institutions that receive Title IV financial assistance have to report statistics on crimes that occur on campus to students, the public, and the federal government. As noted in the table below, the crimes that require reporting include motor vehicle theft, drug use, illegally carrying weapons, and hate crimes, among others. The reauthorization of VAWA also added reporting requirements for crimes against women, such as dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

Table source: The Department of Education

The data and statistics specified under the Clery Act are compiled in an Annual Security Report (ASR) that can usually be found on the university’s website. The campus crime statistics are compiled using Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) guidelines for the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system, Hate Crime reports, the now-defunct Summary Reporting System (SRS), and the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). This ASR must be submitted to the Department of Education. Campus security authorities (CSAs) are also required to update daily crime logs within two days of a report being made (excepting in cases when sensitivity and confidentiality are paramount).

Table source: The Department of Education

In addition, campus police are required to make emergency notifications to all those on campus under certain circumstances, which might include violence on campus or an incident like a school shooting where danger is imminent. For crimes listed under the Clery Act and that “represent an ongoing threat,” campus police must issue timely warnings to students. This can include instances where a stranger sexually assaults someone on campus. The following chart identifies the differences between emergency notifications and timely warnings:

Table source: The Department of Education

It is important to note that an institution does not have to investigate every report made — that is up to their discretion. But reports must be recorded in a transparent manner, while also anonymizing the victim’s information to protect them. Those colleges that fail to comply with requirements could face a review by the Department of Education and, if found to be lax, could be fined over $30,000.

In Smart’s case, she had been missing for several days before campus police took any action, erroneously believing she had returned home over the Memorial Day weekend. Technically, the Clery Act requires that universities lay out a roadmap for missing students cases, including a list of people missing persons should be reported to. Such cases could be immediately referred to the CSA or to the local law enforcement agency if there is no CSA, per the law.

With educational institutions reopening following Covid-19 lockdowns and gun violence increasingly targeting teens and young adults, the role of campus police is under further scrutiny, perhaps in a way it hasn’t been since CSAs were first established a handful of decades ago.

You can find further Clery Act requirements here.

You can find crime data for various institutions here.