University officials have admitted that CSU has inadvertently violated a federal law requiring the distribution of an annual crime report, which is supposed to be readily available to all current students and staff.
The law, commonly known as the Clery Act, mandates that all universities must produce an annual security report, including crime statistics, and make it available to all students and faculty by Oct. 1. If the report is posted on a Web site, a notice must be sent out informing students and CSU staff of the exact Web address.
CSU police and university spokespeople have acknowledged its violation of the act, and if a formal complaint is sent to the U.S. Department of Education and an investigation is launched, CSU could face fines of up to $25,000.
“We did inadvertently miss sending students a notice about the statistics being printed, and it being available on our Web site,” said Jackie Swaro, a spokeswoman for the CSU Police Department. “We have sent out a announcement to make sure everybody knows the statistics are now available.”
Dexter Yarbrough, CSUPD chief of police, says the mishap was an “oversight” and he thought he was following the law.
“If there was some confusion about the method that individuals should know, then perhaps it was an oversight, but it was not maliciously done,” Yarbrough said.
He said printing the document and making it available online is how the university has always handled the interpretation of the law and that he has not heard of any inquiries coming from CSU’s General Counsel or from the Office of the President.
“We’re not trying to hide anything,” said Swaro, who invites students to visit CSUPD’s Web site to download a full version of the security report, which has been posted there since July 22.
On Friday, about two weeks after the federal Clery Act deadline passed, CSUPD started to make efforts to comply with the Clery Act, following Collegian inquiries. CSUPD posted a message on Tuesday with Today @ Colorado State, a university Web site and newsletter, letting students know about the availability of the report.
Catherine Bath, executive director for Security on Campus, Inc., says posting the information on the newsletter Web site is “unacceptable” and still violates the law.
“The newsletter is not adequate notice,” Bath said from her office in Pennsylvania. “It needs to go into some kind of literature that everyone gets.”
Because Today @ Colorado State is an e-mail subscriber service, only students who apply will get the security report notice. But it is automatically sent to all CSU faculty, according to Jayleen Heft, editor of Today @ Colorado State.
Bath says this is still not fulfilling the requirement of the law.
“Putting it on a newsletter that has to be subscribed to is not in compliance with the Clery Act,” Bath said.
According to the U.S. Department of Education “Covering Crime on Campus” handbook, universities must distribute the report by postal mail, e-mail or by placing it on a Web site, only if a notice is distributed informing all students and staff of the exact Web link. The purpose of the report is to give a clear picture of how safe a school’s campus actually is.
“The law specifies it has to be in the hands of students because students must have a chance to protect themselves,” said Adam Goldstein, an attorney advocate with the Virginia-based Student Press Law Center
According to Swaro, CSUPD is well aware of the law and had crime statistics printed in a safety booklet ready for freshman distribution in mid-July. She said CSUPD failed to get it to the total student population and all CSU employees.
“I still believe we were in compliance,” Yarbrough said. “We thought printing out the booklet and having it on our Web site was in compliance.”
Tonie Miyamoto, communications coordinator for Housing and Dining Services, confirmed that freshmen were verbally informed by police about the report being available during freshman preview.
In early to mid-August, copies of the safety booklet were distributed among the CSU residence halls, but were not directly given to freshmen. Instead they were stocked behind residence hall front desks, Miyamoto said.
There are no hard statistics that show how many universities are not in compliance with the Clery Act. Complaints must be filed via e-mail or by calling in to the DOE if someone finds a university breaking the act.
There is no evidence CSU has received any Clery Act complaints since the law’s 1990 genesis.
“Taking the extra step to inform the community to find this information is not that tricky,” Bath said.
Bath says it is rare for her non-profit group to hear about distribution compliance, and admitted the media is usually the one finding problems.
“The whole idea of the act is that you want the campus community to be aware that ‘crime happens here, too, we’re not the Ivory Tower,'” Bath said.
SOC, Inc. is an organization whose mission is to prevent violence, substance abuse and other crimes on university campus communities.
SOC was founded in 1987 by Connie and Howard Clery after the rape and murder of the couple’s daughter Jeanne, a freshman at Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University. She was killed in her campus residence hall by a fellow student, whom she did not know, according to the organization’s Web site.
The Clery parents soon found out after establishing SOC that 38 violent crimes on campus in the three years before their daughter’s murder had not been reported to the students of Lehigh, thus the creation of the Clery Act.
The act includes other campus mandates requiring campus police to make crime logs public, and to give timely warnings of security threats that may present a danger to a university.
Staff writer James Baetke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The annual security report must be distributed to all current students and employees in one of two ways:
1. Directly, through publications and mailings. This may be accomplished by giving a copy directly to each individual or by direct mailing to each individual through the U.S. Postal Service, campus mail, e-mail, or a combination of these methods
2. Posting the annual security report on an Internet or intranet Web site that is reasonably accessible to currently enrolled students and to employees. This method may be used only if an individual notice about the annual security report is distributed by Oct. 1 to each student and employee. This notice should not be buried in another document where a student or employee may be unlikely to read it. The notice should include:
-A statement of the report’s availability
-A list and brief description of the information contained in the report
-The exact address (URL) of the Internet or intranet Web site at which the report is posted. This means that the institution must provide a direct link to the annual security report. It is not acceptable to give the URL for the institution’s Web site.
-A statement that the school will provide a paper copy of the annual security report upon request. This request does not have to be made in writing. An institution may not charge fees to individuals for copies of the annual security report. Therefore, the annual security report may not be included in any publication for which a fee is charged.