Legal Hotline: Clery Act

Legal Hotline: Clery Act

Q: There are several colleges and universities in our coverage area, and crimes are regularly reported on and near campus. We requested access to information about the crimes from campus police, but they denied access based on the criminal investigation exception to the Right-to-Know Law. Isn’t there a law that requires public access to information about crimes on college campuses?

A: Yes, there is a federal law that requires educational institutions to keep track of, and provide public access to, information related to crimes reported on and near campus. This federal law, the Clery Act, supersedes the RTKL.

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, 20 USC § 1092(f), also known as the Clery Act, applies to all educational institutions that receive federal funding. Virtually all higher educational institutions, public and private, are subject to the Clery Act.

The Clery Act imposes several requirements on educational institutions that maintain a campus police or security department. The act requires institutions to maintain statistics on several types of crimes and maintain publicly accessible information in several forms. Institutions must keep statistics on four broad categories of crimes, including several specific types of crimes in each category. They are:

Criminal Offenses

  • Criminal homicide: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, manslaughter by negligence
  • Sexual assault: rape, fondling, incest, statutory rape
  • Robbery
  • Aggravated assault
  • Burglary
  • Motor vehicle theft
  • Arson

Hate Crimes (any of the above-mentioned offenses, and any incidents of)

  • Larceny-theft
  • Simple assault
  • Intimidation
  • Destruction/damage/vandalism of property

Note: a “hate crime” under the Clery Act is defined as “a criminal offense that manifests evidence that the victim was intentionally selected because of the perpetrator’s bias against the victim.”

VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) Offenses

  • Domestic violence
  • Dating violence
  • Stalking

Arrests and Referrals for Disciplinary Action

  • Weapons law violations
  • Drug abuse violations
  • Liquor law violations

Institutions are required to gather information about these categories and specific crimes to create an annual report about crime on campus. The federal Department of Education maintains a searchable database of Cleary Act reports and other data from colleges and universities across the nation.

Educational institutions must also produce a daily crime log with information about criminal incidents. The daily public crime log must include, at a minimum:

  1. The nature of the crime (category and type).
  2. The date of the crime.
  3. The time of the crime.
  4. The general location of each crime.
  5. The disposition of the crime if the disposition is known.

This information must be entered into the school’s Clery log within two business days of its reporting. The Clery log must be publicly accessible during the school’s normal business hours. The law also requires the Clery log to remain immediately accessible to the public for 60 days. Information older than 60 days that is requested must be made available within two business days of the request.

It is important to understand that the Clery Act applies to crimes that occur on campus, crimes that occur on public property adjacent to campus, and off-campus buildings that are owned or used by the educational institution or student groups for educational purposes. Educational institutions that do not comply with the Clery Act can be denied access to federal funds.

It is also critical to note that the RTKL, and its exemptions, are superseded by the Clery Act. Sections  306 and 3101.1 of theRTKL both render the RTKL inapplicable when a more specific law governs public access. Because the Clery Act is a more specific law that requires public access to campus crime information, the RTKL and its exemptions do not apply and cannot be used as a basis to deny access to Clery Act information.

You can learn more about the Clery Act here.

As always, this is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice.  Please call your newspaper’s attorney or the Legal Hotline at (717) 703-3080 with questions.