Friday, October 5, 2012

Clery Act clarified:

Campus officials address annual safety report, explain policies regarding campus crime and student conduct

By Amelia Heath, Focus Editor

Crime is everywhere, and Pacific Lutheran University is no exception.

Students, staff and faculty across PLU received an email from the President’s Office last week announcing the release of this year’s Campus Annual Safety Report and 2011 crime statistics, a federal mandate under the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act of 1990.

Under the Clery Act, originally known as the Student Right-To-Know and Campus Security Act, colleges and universities across the United States are required to have a crime log available to the public and publish an annual security report.

Annual reports are available on the U.S. Department of Education website.

The security reports detail campus security policies and procedures and the basic rights guaranteed to victims of sexual assault, as well as protection for “whistleblowers” who make public disclosure of wrongdoing. The report must also document three calendar years of select campus crime statistics, including incidents that occur on campus and in certain off-campus areas, such as Greek houses and remote classrooms.

Statistics are compiled by campus security personnel, local law enforcement and other school officials with significant responsibility for student and campus activities, including residence hall directors, coaches and faculty advisors to student groups. Pastoral and professional counselors are exempt from filing reports.

PLU’s Annual Safety Report is available on the Campus Safety website. A hard copy may be obtained upon request from the Campus Safety office.

The Clery Act is tied to an institution’s participation in federal student financial aid programs. Institutions that fail to comply with the Clery Act may be fined up to $27,500 for each violation and risk losing federal funding. No feedback is given to institutions unless a complaint is filed with the Department of Education.

The Clery report does not include violations specific to PLU’s student code of conduct, such as the tobacco-free campus policy, because those violations cannot be applied to other institutions. Theft is not reported either, though information is available from Campus Safety upon request. Greg Premo, director of Campus Safety, did mention that car-related crimes have decreased over the years. Premo attributes this trend to increased presence of Campus Safety staff and local deputies, as well as the addition of cameras to parking areas.

One way in which the PLU Clery report differs from some other institution’s reports is that sexual offenses are divided into two categories: unwanted touching, as in the case last October and November when a non-community member was accused of groping nine female PLU students, and forcible offenses, which includes any type of unwanted penetration.
Readers of the PLU Clery report may notice that the number of arrests and student conduct interferences are only attached to liquor, drug and weapons law violations. In the majority of cases, Premo said, when felonies such as sex offenses and burglary occur on campus, the perpetrator is unknown.

In cases of felonies such as assault and sexual offense, it is up to the discretion of the victim whether they report the incident to local law enforcement. Regardless of whether law enforcement is informed, a report is filed with Campus Safety and, when a student perpetrator is identified, Premo said, that student is brought to student conduct.
Ray Lader, associate director of PLU Student Conduct, said the university’s sexual misconduct policy is “pretty broad” due to the variety of offenses it includes, ranging from sexual harassment to forcible rape.

When local law enforcement is involved with a crime committed by a student, student conduct still brings sanctions against the student. Lader said student conduct does not “wait on the criminal system because it often will take much longer than our process.” The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) does not supercede the needs of the court – if a prosecutor issues a subpoena for an incident, student conduct informs the students involved of what information is being released.

Sanctions for all conduct violations are determined on a case-to-case basis, depending on the circumstances surrounding the offense.

For the most part, Premo said, the university prefers to handle issues such as misdemeanor liquor and drug law violations internally because “it’s not something we want to burden the sheriff’s department on when we can handle it more efficiently through student conduct.”
Sanctions for liquor and drug law violations are more heavily regulated by the federal government than other conduct violations. For these violations, Lader said, students must usually go through courses outside of PLU that include an education workshop and, in some cases, community service, in addition to PLU sanctions such as student conduct fines and a letter of mutual understanding.

With these violations, Lader said, student conduct aims to be “educational” in the sanctions process and address other issues the student may be having that could be affecting behavior, offering resources such as the counseling and health centers and academic advising and assistance to get students back on track.

When a person who is not a member of the PLU community commits a crime on campus or acts in violation of campus conduct, such as an incident in 2011 when a non-community member was found to be under the influence of alcohol at an ASPLU-sponsored concert, local police are immediately brought in. When compliant, Premo said, non-community violators are restricted from campus.

Jennifer Olsen Krengel, director of admissions, said the Clery report is a “really helpful resource for families” because every college is required to provide the same information without the university “potentially marketing something differently.” Krengel added that, in her experience, the crime statistics for PLU do not deter prospective students from enrolling.

Premo said there is talk of adding statistics on offenses such as stalking and intimate partner violence to the list of Clery reportable offenses.

“I can’t say that it [requiring stalking and intimate partner violence in the Clery report]  would change our numbers in any way,” Premo said. “But I think it’s probably a good move, because it’s certainly a topic that a lot of people are interested in and seeing how it’s affecting campuses across the United States.”