The Clery Act is a federal law addressing crime on college campuses. The law has come to the public’s attention not only because of recent campus shootings, but also because the act is approaching its 25th anniversary. Anniversaries are for reflection on the past, and this year lawmakers and communities may look at the Clery Act’s impact. It may be time for an overhaul.
Because of the law, colleges and universities make important crime and safety information available to the public through annual reports and daily incident logs. The annual reports must include both high-level statistics about the types and frequency of crimes (crimes reported to either police or campus security officers) as well as details of the individual crimes that occur on campus. The annual report must also include the school’s security policy.
Since 2008, the year of the Virginia Tech tragedy, the act has required higher education institutions to have systems and processes in place to warn everyone on campus immediately about a “significant emergency or dangerous situation.” Each school must have an emergency response plan and an evacuation plan in place, and each plan must be tested at least once a year.
The federal government has left the details of the plans up to each school. Nor does the law make recommendations about including a process for responding to a shooting in progress. The requirement is to have a plan; the aspiration is to have an effective plan that will save lives.
The law did not create a new crime or add levels of punishment to crimes already on the books. Rather, the law focuses on communication and prevention. The law applies to the universities and colleges, not to a crime or a suspect.
Indiana boasts more than 150 higher education institutions — nearly 50 in Indianapolis — and each has its own plan. Most university campuses have armed police on duty, but the University of Southern Indiana and Ivy Tech Community College rely on unarmed campus security guards to keep their students safe. It’s hard not to imagine that even with a plan an emergency situation could be confusing for everyone in the area.
If we are lucky, the plans will work and will prevent crimes against the community and its members. However, these plans could also result in police or security officers wrongfully detaining people, accusing them of taking a part in the crime that they had nothing to do with. Each school must safeguard against overzealous prosecution, as well.