How the Clery Act Failed
The Clery Act's Neglected Mission of Campus Safety Transparency
Nov 23, 2023
In 1990, the United States Congress passed the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, more commonly known as the Clery Act. Named after Jeanne Clery, a young woman who was tragically murdered in her college dorm room, this legislation intended to promote transparency and oversight when it came to campus safety at educational institutions. However, disclosure meant to empower the public has devolved into a chaotic mess of unhelpful resources and questionable compliance ultimately failing in providing true campus safety accountability.
The Clery Act has countless flaws, with the main 4 being:
- Arduous request and data collection processes.
- Unusable and inconsistent data formats
- Inaccurate and incorrect reporting
- A lack of public awareness
While its intentions are well-meaning, the Clery Act has failed to provide the public with the transparency it promised.
Requesting Data is a Hassle
If for some reason like us, you've ever tried to request some crime data from a campus police department, you'll understand the pain that comes with it. We faced a multitude of issues long enough to warrant writing a completely separate blog about it.
Infinite Flash Drive Glitch
I'd recommend giving it a read, but as a TLDR; long email threads, obscure contact information, retaliatory pickup methods, and reluctant department contacts only begin to scratch the surface of the difficulties we faced.
It's significant to preface that while we experienced friction in requesting data from a majority of colleges, a few departments had refreshingly simple and streamlined processes for obtaining data. However, these were few and far between.
In particular, kudos to UC San Francisco for having their historical daily crime log already readily available on their website and in a standardized tabular format
Being Compliant isn't Enough
So you've jumped through all the obstacles and finally received your data. You open it up and... it's a mess. From our experiences, data can range from being in a simple CSV format, to being in a PDF, to being in a PDF that's been scanned in as an image. It genuinely begs the question
How could anyone possibly use any of this?
Seriously, if I were a student trying to figure out what recent crimes have occurred near my dorm, or what areas statistically have the most amount of bike thefts, data in a non-machine readable format is completely useless. Under the Clery Act, what good does showing the last 60 days of crime data do if there's no way to search it?
This is where the Clery Act's compliance requirements fall short. While it's true that the Clery Act requires schools to disclose crime data, it doesn't specify how. This allows schools to get away with providing data in any format they want, and stay compliant, even if it's completely unusable.
Even once you've received and parsed the data, there's no telling how accurate it truly is. Departments notoriously neglect to report crimes or report them incorrectly.
A 2020 report by the California State Auditor's Office found that:
None of the four institutions we reviewed that reported criminal offenses—Irvine, San Joaquin, Santa Clara, and Sonoma—fully complied with the crime reporting requirements of the Clery Act and federal regulations. All four institutions reported statistics that were inaccurate or incomplete to varying degrees. Although all four institutions had written procedures for collecting and reporting crime statistics, these procedures alone were not sufficient to ensure compliance.
This puts into perspective the gross noncompliance occurring at even the most prestigious of universities. Furthermore, this is an audit of only 4 schools out of nearly 6000 in the US. From what we've found, at least within California it seems that only around 4-6 schools are audited each year with a varying degree of schools passing.
At least when they are caught in noncompliance, there are consequences. For example, in 2020, UC Berkely was fined a total of 2.4 million in a settlement with the US Department of Education in which they agreed to revise their crime reporting procedures and hire 4 new staff in order to ensure compliance in it's Clery Program. These recent changes could explain the swift response and return with data that Berkeley provided to us when we requested their historical records in early July.
Let's be honest, most people have never heard of the Clery Act. If you're reading this and aren't in involved in campus safety, chances are you probably didn't know what it was until now.
Why is that?
When researching details about the Clery Act, nothing was ever direct or clear. Specifics were extremely difficult to find and the information that we were looking for always seemed to be behind obscure links or buried within random PDFs. Even finding the Clery Act contact information on various campus police departments proved a challenge in itself. Information about the Clery Act is so difficult to find, that it almost feels as if it was intentionally hidden. It's no wonder that nobody knows what it is. But does that even matter?
An article from the Ball State University interviewing their Clery Coordinator stated that:
Despite the university having enrollment of more than 22,000, the number of people seeking out the information is typically only in the mid-teens, he said. “Does anyone actually pay attention to the Clery report?” Gillilan said. “It's very disappointing. There's a lot of time and effort and worry and anxiety, at least on my part, that goes into making sure that that's available and it's timely and it's accurate.”
While it can be a slight factor when choosing a college, the truth is, campus safety is not usually the first thing that comes to mind. This creates a lack of public awareness about the Clery Act and lends to the lack of importance that campus safety departments put on it.
At its core, the message of the Clery Act is simple. To empower the public with crime data. While its purpose is well-intentioned, from personal experience, its execution from campus to campus has been anywhere from mediocre at best, to borderline noncompliant.
And it truly is a shame. It's not too difficult to understand the amount of value having unhindered access to this crime data brings to the public. That's why we've been working hard to bridge the gap between law and execution.
CallMap is a platform for students, parents, and the public to view, discover, and visualize historical university crime data. Our mission is to provide useful and valuable data the way the Clery Act intended. And the best part? It's free. For everyone. Forever. We believe that anyone should have access to campus crime data without the hassles that come with contacting police departments and parsing complex formats. Don't see your school on CallMap? Feel free to contribute your own parser. The CallMap visualization platform is completely open source.