Canceling Clery?

At campus safety meeting, Sen. Claire McCaskill says she'd like to scrap the Clery Act, eliciting cheers from campus officers and criticism from some supporters of the campus security law.

July 2, 2015

Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, suggested last week that she was in favor of “removing” the Clery Act, the law that requires colleges to provide and publicize information about campus crimes. In a statement late Wednesday night, though, she softened her language, saying through a spokeswoman that she had been referring only to the campus security law's reporting requirements.

While McCaskill -- who has promoted legislation that would toughen oversight of colleges on sexual assault -- has long been critical of the Clery Act, her statements last week were especially condemnatory. The comments, which came during McCaskill’s keynote address at last week’s Campus Safety National Forum, elicited cheers from campus law enforcement officials and concern from campus safety groups.

“I don’t need to tell you it’s flawed,” McCaskill said to the gathering of college security officials on Thursday. “To be honest with you, I am OK with removing the Clery Act completely.”

Adding that the Clery Act accomplishes little besides being "a waste of time pushing paper" for campus safety officials, McCaskill said she would ultimately like to see the law replaced with something that would provide a clearer picture of what crimes are taking place on campuses. "My goal is to remove [the Clery Act,]," she added. "Or at a minimum, simplify it."

The Clery Act requires colleges to annually disclose the number of particular types of crimes on campus and to provide timely warnings to students about ongoing criminal activity, such as an active shooter or a recent sexual assault. But critics like McCaskill, including many campus administrators, say Clery statistics do not accurately illustrate the prevalence of campus crime, as increases in the number of a particular crime may have as much to do with improved reporting techniques as an actual uptick in criminal activity.

McCaskill and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, have sought to alter the Clery Act, as well as other facets of how sexual assault is handled on campuses, with a bill called the Campus and Accountability and Safety Act. The law would require campuses to conduct annual climate surveys regarding gender violence and sexual misconduct.

That legislation has not yet been voted on, but some amendments to the Clery Act did go into effect on Wednesday as part of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. Colleges are now required to disclose reports of stalking and domestic violence.

The Clery Act does not have many fans among campus law enforcement officials, and McCaskill’s comments drew applause from the crowd at the Campus Safety National Forum on Thursday. A similar reaction was seen this week at the annual meeting of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators in Nashville.

During a presentation about the role of the Clery Act and Title IX in sex crime investigations, Susan Riseling, chief of police and associate vice chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said the Clery Act was a “cluster.”

Riseling said McCaskill would like to see the Clery Act repealed or at least stripped down to simply requiring colleges to provide timely information and warnings about ongoing crimes. 

“That information is what might prevent someone else from becoming a victim, and timely warnings are really the point of Clery,” Riseling said. “Some of the best news I’ve heard was Sen. McCaskill saying ‘maybe we’d better throw out Clery.’ ”

The room of more than 100 college law enforcement administrators in Nashville broke out in applause.

In an open letter to McCaskill, the Clery Center for Security on Campus said it was “disappointed” by the senator’s comments. In the letter, the center listed a number of positive scenarios that are now possible thanks to the Clery Act, including students receiving text messages about active shooters and parents easily learning online about safety and security issues at a particular campus.

McCaskill made use of Clery data in her 2014 report on campus sexual violence, the center noted.

“The Clery Act was shepherded into existence by Connie and Howard Clery -- two parents who lost their only daughter, Jeanne, when she was raped and murdered in her residence hall in 1986,” the Clery Center stated. “They turned incomprehensible grief into incredible change in the effort to ensure no other family would experience such loss. It’s more than just paper work. It is meaningful policies that drive powerful action.”

On Wednesday, McCaskill’s office sought to clarify the senator’s comments.

"Claire’s criticism of Clery was specifically about its reporting requirements, which virtually everyone agrees are burdensome and need updating," Sarah Feldman, a spokeswoman for McCaskill, said. "She fully supports retaining many of the law’s other provisions, but would like to see crime statistic reporting simplified, along with the campus climate surveys her legislation requires."


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