In 1990, the federal government sought transparency for students on college campuses regarding the different crimes, and crime policies, happening around them.
The Clery Act is still used today by universities nationwide and is the reason Missouri State students receive email and text warnings when crime happens on campus.
The act specifies four categories of crimes that the institution must include in its annual security report and in a daily crime log. The school is required to keep the crime log public and accessible during business hours.
These four categories are known as “Clery crimes,” Tom Johnson, director of Safety and Transportation at MSU, said. The first category includes criminal offenses, according to the Clery Center’s website. Those offenses are homicide, sexual assault — ranging from fondling to rape — robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft and arson.
The other three categories are hate crimes; Violence Against Women Act offenses, including domestic and dating violence and stalking; and arrests for disciplinary action, including liquor law violations, drug abuse and weapons law violations.
According to clerycenter.org, “When a crime covered by the Clery Act occurs, campus officials are required to evaluate if there is a serious or ongoing threat to the campus community to determine if a timely warning needs to be issued to all staff and students.
“In the event of an immediate, significant danger to the health or safety of the campus community (e.g. weather, disease outbreak), campus officials may issue an emergency notification. This notification can include the entire campus or be limited to a specific area deemed to be at risk.”
Johnson said this evaluation is made by a group of MSU officials, including the safety and transportation department, the dean of students, a person from the communications department and a general council.
The Springfield Police Department often provides the crime report, Johnson said, but the ultimate decision on whether or not to notify the campus comes from the school.
There are two kinds of notifications required by the Clery Act.
“There’s a difference between what we call a timely warning and an emergency notification,” Johnson said. “In an emergency notification, you might get a text. … It means that there is an active situation and if you don’t do something you could be hurt.
“A timely warning is more like, (a crime) happened, we received a report about it and here are some tips to keep yourself safe and whether there is a threat to campus as a whole.”
The text alerts, Johnson said, are sent out when information must be shared as quickly as possible, which can potentially jeopardize accuracy. In the cases when a timely warning must be issued, officials have a bit more time to organize and check the information, as it is usually reported to them. The idea behind a timely warning is to share what happened and provide tips for prevention.
In either case, a notification is required. But, Johnson said, MSU’s campus has seen a few circumstances when a notification isn’t required by the Clery Act, but campus received one anyway. These are the crime alerts.
“The crime alert is not a Clery Act (requirement),” Johnson said. “Those are issued when it doesn’t meet the Clery Act, but campus still thinks someone should know.”
Johnson said this was the case with the armed robberies near MSU throughout the fall semester of 2017. Safety and Transportation was under no legal obligation to send out the alerts of any armed robbery, but, Johnson said, the department felt the threat to students was serious enough for high alert.
The department also decides when there is not a threat to students.
On Dec. 18, 2017, a rape was reported at the Alpha Kappa Lambda fraternity house. Campus was not notified because the incident wasn’t deemed a threat to anyone else — but the report was available to the public through the school’s daily crime log. Johnson said the department did get feedback from students.
“As far as the sexual assault … yes, it was a Clery crime and, yes, it happened on campus,” Johnson said. “But, quite honestly, there was no reason (to notify) because there wasn’t a threat. … If we know who the perpetrator is, we can litigate that threat.”
Johnson said the bottom line is that the department chooses not to release a notification for every crime so students will understand, when they do receive a notice, to be on high alert or take action, if necessary.
“We analyzed the situation and reviewed it,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to put out notice just to put a notice out. Then people get to a point that they don’t pay much attention. ... If we know the perpetrator and are talking to them, we will not put one out.”
University policy statement on safety and crime alerts:
“In compliance with the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) of 2008, and the Jeanne Clery Act, 20 U.S.C. 1092(f) as amended, the purpose of this policy is to ensure procedures are set forth by which the university will provide emergency notification or timely warning to the university community in the event that a significant emergency or dangerous situation is reported that poses an immediate, imminent, or impeding threat to members of the university community; or a crime or incident is reported that poses a threat to members of the University community.”