Report 2015-032 Summary - July 2015

California's Postsecondary Educational Institutions:

More Guidance Is Needed to Increase Compliance With Federal Crime Reporting Requirements

HIGHLIGHTS

Our audit of the 2013 crime statistics compiled and reported by six California postsecondary educational institutions (institutions) highlighted the following:

None of the six California institutions we reviewed completely complied with all of the federal reporting requirements.

  • Five of the institutions inaccurately reported crime statistics.
  • Only one institution disclosed all of the campus policies in its annual security report-the most frequently incomplete or missing disclosures were for policies related to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.
  • Of the 79 campus survey respondents, most indicated their security policies and crime statistics are available on their website, but some did not provide notification of their availability.
  • Additional guidance from the systemwide offices for the State's public institutions and from a state entity could improve institutions' compliance with federal reporting requirements.

RESULTS IN BRIEF

The federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act) requires postsecondary educational institutions (institutions) that participate in certain federal financial aid programs to publish annual security reports that disclose specified campus crime statistics and campus security policies. Crimes reportable under the Clery Act (Clery Act crimes) include assaults, arsons, robberies, and sex offenses occurring in certain locations. The Clery Act and its implementing regulations require these institutions to distribute the reports to current students and employees and to notify prospective students and employees of their availability. According to the U.S. Department of Education (U.S. DOE), the goal of safety and security related laws such as the Clery Act is to provide students and their families with accurate, complete, and timely information about safety on campus so that they can make informed decisions as consumers of higher education.

Our review of six California institutions found that none of the six-Fresno City College (Fresno), San Francisco State University (San Francisco), Shasta College (Shasta), Stanford University (Stanford), University of California, San Diego (San Diego), and University of Redlands (Redlands)-were in full compliance with the Clery Act's requirements. Specifically, five of the institutions inaccurately reported certain crime statistics, and five failed to disclose all required campus policies. By not fully complying with the Clery Act, institutions may inhibit the ability of students, parents, and employees to make informed decisions regarding safety on campus. Institutions may also increase their risk of incurring U.S. DOE's financial penalties.

Five of the six institutions reported inaccurate crime statistics in 2013, the latest year covered by their most recent annual security reports. Only Fresno correctly reported its crime statistics. To determine the accuracy of their reporting, we tested a selection of crime files for 15 to 30 of the Clery Act crimes each institution reported for 2013.1 To determine if the institutions failed to report crimes that they should have reported, we reviewed 13 to 25 additional crimes at each institution. We found a total of 13 reporting errors, including one Clery Act crime that an institution did not report, seven crimes that institutions reported incorrectly, and five crimes that institutions incorrectly reported as Clery Act crimes. When institutions inaccurately report crime statistics, interested parties, such as prospective students and parents, could draw incorrect conclusions about safety on campus.

In addition, only one of the six institutions—Stanford—disclosed all of the campus policies in its 2014 annual security report that federal law requires to be submitted in October. Policy statements related to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (Reauthorization Act) were the most frequently incomplete or missing disclosures in the institutions' reports. The Reauthorization Act, which took effect in March 2014, added specific policy statements that institutions must include in their annual security reports. If institutions do not make all required disclosures, students and other stakeholders may not have the information necessary to make informed decisions about their personal security, for example, regarding the prevention of crime and the actions they should take in the event of emergencies.

We also surveyed 79 campuses throughout the State with student enrollments of 500 or more that participate in certain federal financial aid programs and that reported no criminal offenses for 2013 in order to determine whether those institutions had adequate processes in place for compiling and distributing their crime statistics.2 Most of the 79 campuses that responded indicated that they had processes in place to help ensure that they report accurate crime statistics. Although most of the 79 respondents indicated that they provide a link on their websites to their security policies and annual crime statistics, some did not state that they take all the steps required to ensure that their students and employees are aware that these reports are available. For example, 77 percent of the respondents to our survey indicated that their institution's website includes direct links to their policies and statistics. However, 21 percent of these respondents did not indicate that they notify their current students and employees by email, publication, or other means of their campus security policies and annual crime statistics as the Clery Act requires.

Since the requirement for the California State Auditor to audit compliance with the Clery Act was added by statute in 2002, we have conducted five audits of a selection of California's institutions. Because of the similarity of the issues we identified in this report and in our four previous reports, we believe that California's institutions' compliance with the Clery Act could improve with additional guidance from the systemwide offices for the State's public institutions and from a state entity that provides guidance to all institutions. Although the systemwide offices—University of California Office of the President (UCOP), California State University (CSU) Office of the Chancellor, and the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office (Community Colleges Chancellor's Office)—provide some guidance to their respective institutions regarding compliance with the Clery Act, the level of guidance they provide varies significantly and it can be improved. In addition, although the U.S. DOE is responsible for overseeing these institutions' compliance with the Clery Act, it did not issue any completed reports on Clery Act program reviews of California institutions between 2011 and 2014. Further, the State does not currently have an entity or other governing body to provide guidance to institutions, including private institutions, that would help ensure their compliance with the requirements of the Clery Act and the Reauthorization Act. The California Department of Justice (Justice), Office of the Attorney General—the State's chief law enforcement official—is well positioned to advise institutions on which California criminal statutes align with what must be reported under the Clery Act, and could therefore provide additional guidance on the Clery Act to all institutions. When we asked Justice for its perspective on this new role, it stated that it would welcome the opportunity to work with the Legislature and the California Department of Finance to assess how the State can improve its guidance in this area. Without additional guidance at the state level, California's institutions may continue to report inaccurate crime statistics and fail to adequately disclose policies in their annual security reports, in conflict with what the Clery Act requires—misinforming users of the reports and exposing the institutions to the U.S. DOE's financial penalties.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The Legislature should require Justice to provide guidance to California's public and private institutions and systemwide offices regarding compliance with the requirements of the Clery Act and the Reauthorization Act.

Redlands, San Diego, San Francisco, Shasta, and Stanford should review and adhere to applicable guidance related to the Clery Act, including the U.S. DOE's Office of Postsecondary Education's The Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting (OPE handbook) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook, to ensure that they are accurately reporting their crime statistics.

Fresno, Redlands, San Diego, San Francisco, and Shasta should review and adhere to applicable guidance related to the Clery Act, including the OPE handbook and the Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook, to ensure that they are including all required disclosures in their annual security reports.

To ensure that its respective institutions comply with the Clery Act, UCOP should finalize and implement its draft policy that will provide additional guidance and oversight to its institutions.

To ensure that its respective institutions comply with the Clery Act, the CSU Office of the Chancellor should develop written policies and procedures to provide guidance to its institutions on how to report accurate Clery Act crime statistics and ensure that all required disclosures are included in its respective institutions' annual security reports. The CSU Office of the Chancellor should then annually revisit the written policies and procedures to ensure that they are up to date.

To ensure that its respective institutions comply with the Clery Act, the Community Colleges Chancellor's Office should develop written policies and procedures to provide guidance to its institutions on how to report accurate Clery Act crime statistics and ensure that all required disclosures are included in its respective institutions' annual security reports. The Community Colleges Chancellor's Office should then annually revisit the written policies and procedures to ensure that they are up to date.

AGENCY COMMENTS

Although all six institutions agreed with our recommendations, Stanford raised concerns with some of our conclusions. The CSU Office of the Chancellor and UCOP agreed with our recommendations and outlined actions they plan to take to address them. However, although the Community Colleges Chancellor's Office did not take issue with our report's conclusions, it did not specifically address how it plans to implement the recommendation we directed to it.


1 The specific number of crimes we reviewed varied with the total Clery Act crimes each institution reported.

2 We initially surveyed 80 institutions; however, one of the institutions closed after we distributed our survey.