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How the Newly Updated Clery Act Affects Your College or University

The U.S. Department of Education recently published the 2016 edition of The Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting, commonly referred to as the Clery Handbook. The Clery Handbook is a step-by-step guide of the campus safety and security reporting obligations for colleges and universities. This is the first time in five years that the Department of Education has released an updated Handbook.

After examining the new updates, we have compiled a list of items more likely to impact and require changes to the way higher education institutions document and report information. Here are our four takeaways:

  1. Violence Against Women Act Updates

This version of the Clery Handbook includes information from the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which took effect in 2015.

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 requires institutions to collect data on reported incidents of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. The Handbook acknowledges that “dating” is a broad term that can have different meanings to different people. Also, further confusion may arise due to terminology that may not seem like “dating,” but would be considered so according to the Clery Act. To help clarify, the Handbook provides several scenarios that are considered VAWA violations.

Institutions must review their current policies and determine how they need to be modified to accommodate these VAWA changes and document the steps taken to ensure compliance.

  1. Increased Emphasis on Documentation

The Clery Act breaks crimes down into four general categories: criminal offenses, hate crimes, VAWA offenses, and arrests and referrals for disciplinary action. Statistics must be disclosed separately for each of these four general categories. In addition, when an incident can be included in more than one of these categories, it must be reported in each category. In addition to reporting on criminal activity, institutions must log their preparedness planning and document any and every drill they run.

The updated version of the Handbook emphasizes the importance of reporting and documenting actions and decisions. Utilizing a web-based incident management system can greatly assist every step of the way, providing a repository for planning documents and reports.

  1. Broad Definition of Campus Security Authorities

Reports on an incident can be gathered from many different sources, known as campus security authorities (CSA). According to the Handbook, CSAs are determined by function and can vary from institution to institution. Campus police and security are CSAs but so are victim advocates, campus health directors, counseling center employees, and members of sexual assault response teams, to name a few.

Because of this broad definition of who may constitute a CSA, the number of reports gathered for a single incident may increase dramatically and coordination between all CSAs will be key to providing a consistent account of incidents.

  1. “Timely Warning” Definition

All Title IV institutions, without exception, are required to have the ability to alert their campus community of certain crimes in a timely manner. While the Clery Act doesn’t define “timely,” it is clear that a warning should be issued as soon as pertinent information is available. This means that even if an institution doesn’t have all the facts surrounding a criminal incident, if there is a possible threat to students and employees, a warning must be issued. Additionally, notifications are to be distributed.

Depending on the nature of the threat, timely warning must reach the entire campus. If there was a burglar report on only one side of the campus, the rest of the student body must be informed on the chance the burglar may commit another crime.

Institutions have an on-going obligation to report incidents with a timely warning or emergency notification to the campus community. Although the Clery Act requires a time commitment from university officials and security, it is imperative to follow these procedures for the betterment of campus safety.

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