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Making sense of The Clery Act

Posted on 11.06.2013

Once a year, students receive a campus-wide email informing them that the combined annual security and fire report is available. The report begins with a message from University of Indianapolis Chief of Police David Selby explaining that the report must be sent out to comply with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, commonly known as the Clery Act.
The Clery Act is frequently referenced in emails from Vice President for Student and Campus Affairs and Dean of Students Kory Vitangeli. According to Selby, the act was meant to hold higher education institutions accountable for informing the campus community about crimes that happen on or near campus.
Selby believes that the Clery Act is a good law but is difficult for anyone not in law enforcement and without training to understand. He thinks the most important element it provides is helping students when choosing an institution to attend.
“You can look at stats pretty quickly, compare them to other universities [and] get a feel for what the crime level and the alcohol problems are on that campus,” Selby said. “And also it kind of gives you an idea whether they’ve got their act together when it comes to timely warnings, active shooter and stuff like that as well. I also think that it gets to be convoluted, hard to understand sometimes.”
After the rape and murder of Jeanne Clery in her residence hall at Lee University in 1986, a law was passed to help keep students informed about what was happening on their campuses. If an institution is suspected of not complying with the act, it could be audited and fined $37,000 for each violation.
The University of Indianapolis Police Department has a binder that contains all the information specified by the act. If a situation was ever to arise, this is what would be given to the United States Department of Education.
According to the UIndy Comprehensive Combined Annual Security and Annual Fire Safety Report for 2012, a university must publish a report every year by Oct. 1 that includes the past three years of campus crime, fire safety statistics and certain campus security policy statements.
“We have to keep a running log and update disputations, incident reports and make them available to students. We have to maintain a list of campus security authorities,” Selby said.
This also includes any property that the university owns. According to Selby, he must acquire information from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and other local police departments. This allows the UIPD to get a true cross section of statistics that affect all of UIndy. The annual report covers everything that may concern safety, including facilities reports.
“We check those things [reports] all the time to make sure that the bushes are not so overgrown someone can hide behind them and grab you as you walk by.  Those are the things I think about,” Selby said.
The other major part of the Clery Act is the requirement to provide timely warnings—notices of crimes that pose an ongoing “threat to students and employees”—and say how the messages will be disclosed. Although this requirement may be broad, Selby believes that UIndy does an adequate job of meeting it.
“If there becomes an immediate threat to campus, then we would probably use Watchdog,” Selby said. “And what happens with that is I’ll communicate with Kory [Vitangeli], Kory communicates with Mary Atteberry and we kind of make that decision.”
Selby, Vitangeli and the other information centers discuss every timely warning before sending messages to the campus community. Selby said that this helps to get these messages on students’ radars.
“It’s like the little boy who cried wolf. I don’t want to cry wolf so much that when I send something out you don’t pay attention to me,” Selby said. “I want to make sure what I send out is valid and serious, so you do pay attention and you do take steps to ensure your personal safety.”
According to Vitangeli, UIndy’s most used form of timely warning is the Watchdog system. Vitangeli said that she uses this system for many other messages other than Clery Act requirements.
“We’ve made the decision here at UIndy to only use ours if there is a true crisis or emergency—in the instance of a weather related-emergency,  a school closing or any type of situation where students are in imminent danger,” Vitangeli said.
Both Selby and Vitangeli said that their goal is to send timely warnings within an hour of the incident happening, although the Clery Act is not specific about timing.
“Our goal is to get the information out as quickly as possible. We for sure aim to get things out within 30 to 60 minutes, but most times when we [have] sent things out, it’s been within 10 to 15 minutes,” Vitangeli said.
The most difficult part of the act for Selby is finding a way to craft alerts so that the people receiving them get a full, accurate picture of what has happened. On Sept. 20, a campus-wide email was sent out to inform the community of a reported  car chase that had unconfirmed gun fire. Selby said this incident shows how communication is key in situations that fall under the Clery Act, especially the way an alert is worded.
“If you don’t craft it correctly, then you create more questions than you give answer to,” he said.
The annual report is available on the UIPD website, along with daily crime logs broken down by month. Selby and Vitangeli encourage anybody who has a question about information availability to contact them. They both said they are happy to answer any questions and give as much information as they have available.
“If you [students] have that concern, then you need to come see me, because you’re seeing something I’m not, and that may be reality. There may be something going on I don’t know,” Selby said. “…We’re in this together. This is not me versus you. We have a symbiotic relationship.”


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