The Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990: Can Statistics Fight Crime?

Rachael Kathryn Class

The Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990 requires all colleges and universities to disclose campus crime statistics. While many parents want this information in order to help their son or daughter select a campus where he or she will be safe, many college and university administrators are concerned that statistics can be misleading. This article examines the benefits, concerns, and challenges regarding the Campus Security Act and provides suggestions for how its implementation can be improved.

In April 1986, Jeanne Clery, a sophomore at Lehigh University was raped, sodomized, and strangled in her residence hall room (Greene, 1988). Her brutal murder received nationwide media coverage, heightening national concern for crime on campus. Jeanne Clery's parents responded by founding "Security on Campus," an organization that seeks to hold colleges and universities accountable for the safety of their students by forcing these institutions to make their crime data and security practices public knowledge. The Clerys believed the lack of students' security awareness and administrative accountability contributed to their daughter's death, circumstances they did not want replicated for other families (Ornstein, 1994).

This manuscript examines some apprehensions and benefits associated with the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990. Safety is a primary concern for parents, students, faculty, and student affairs professionals. When students are frightened, their educational and personal development is impaired (Chickering & Reisser, 1993). In order for students to reap the benefits of higher education, they must feel safe: "Encouraging students to pursue high quality post secondary education is an important element of the National Education Goals; a safe campus environment facilitates such education" (Federal Register, 1994, April 29, p. 22314).

The Clerys' organization, "Security on Campus," lobbied for the development of legislation requiring public disclosure of campus crime data. Pennsylvania Congressional Representative William F. Goodling sponsored the legislation as the Campus Security Act. This law, enacted in 1990, requires any college or university receiving federal student aid "to certify that it has a security policy and has complied with the disclosure requirements" (Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990, 21, p. 14). Since September 1991, colleges and universities have collected data on the number of murders, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, and motor-vehicle thefts on campus. Additionally, data is collected on the number of arrests made on campus for violations of drug, alcohol, and weapons laws. The Act requires colleges and universities to publish and distribute an annual report which includes statistical data and detailed information on crime prevention polices. In addition, when specific incidents of crime are reported to campus security or local law enforcement, information must be immediately circulated to the college community.

In November 1990, the Student Right to Know and Campus Security Act of 1990 (referred hereafter as Campus Security Act) passed into law. Although many college officials supported the initiative, controversy surrounded its implementation and confusion prevailed in reference to how colleges and universities were mandated to comply. The United States Department of Education issued documents in 1991 attempting to further outline and define areas of confusion, and in 1992 the first set of proposed rules were published. Because of a continued lack of clarity, the reaction of college officials to these rules was exceedingly negative. Consequently, the Department of Education revoked them and began again to define specific rules for the reporting of campus crime (Ornstein, 1994). Despite efforts to clarify, problems still arise.

Aside from problems with implementation, supporters continue to argue that the law is necessary and beneficial. Prior to the Campus Security Act, many institutions refused to publish their crime statistics out of fear that the numbers would frighten prospective students away from their campuses (Dodge, 1991). Now that the law is in place, these schools must acknowledge and confront the problem of crime on campus.


Few administrators would argue against crime awareness initiatives; however, the uncertainty regarding certain aspects of the Campus Security Act diminishes its effectiveness. Many institutions contend that statistical campus crime data is inconclusive; there are too many variables which the law does not take into consideration (Lederman, 1994; Lederman, 1993b; Ornstein, 1994).

It is impossible to fairly compare one school to another based solely on numbers. A college or university with a comprehensive crime fighting program may have higher numbers of crimes in their reports because students and staff feel comfortable reporting incidents. A school whose students have little confidence in the effectiveness of their security force may not report crimes, believing little will be done (Dodge, 1991). In 1990-1991, the University of South Dakota reported no rapes on campus. However, after the implementation of a new rape crisis team in the Fall of 1991, the number of rapes reported rose to seven for the 1991-1992 report. This significant increase is evidence of renewed student confidence in support services, not an increase in violent behavior. Jean Morrow, the interim Dean of Students at the time of the report, commented: "The numbers are a sign to us that we are succeeding in bringing unacceptable behavior into an arena in which we can deal with it" (Lederman, 1993b, p. A33).

Statistics also do not account for the size or location of a campus. Clearly institutions in urban areas have an increased risk for crimes to which rural campus are not exposed. Schools with 20,000 students may report a higher number of violent crimes than a school with 1,000 students, but the ratio of the number of students compared to the number of crimes is not required by the law (Lederman, 1993b). This factor, the likelihood that a crime will affect a student, is what concerns most parents and students. Raw data does not provide the clearest picture.

The question of what crimes to report also affects the accuracy of the information reported. Dave Stormer, the Assistant Vice President for Safety and Environmental Services at Pennsylvania State University, declared that larceny accounts for more than 75% of all crimes committed on college campuses, however, this area of crime is not one on which the law requires data (Lederman, 1993b). Colleges and universities often use different methods to categorize crimes-a problem many college officials attribute to a lack of guidance from the Department of Education (Lederman, 1994). One school might include a security report regarding a stolen pen, while another school may not include such information (Dodge, 1991). Another factor contributing to the ambiguity is that many schools define crimes according to their state laws, not realizing they are supposed to define crimes according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's incident-based system (Lederman, 1994).

While the Department of Education attempts to refine the law's regulations, the information they distribute does not always find its way to the college officials who need it. Traditionally, the Department of Education has most of its contact with financial aid officers. Consequently, many documents pertaining to the Campus Security Act have been sent to financial aid offices, rather than the offices responsible for implementing the law (Lederman, 1993a).

One of the most significant concerns expressed by college officials is how crimes are reported. Many alcohol violations and sexual offenses are handled through a college's judicial process and are not considered arrests in their annual report. Little firm evidence exists in reference to under-reporting. However, George Washington University set a strong example by including in their statistics the incidents reported to their judicial system. Their official annual report, as required by law, listed no arrests for alcohol or drug violations, but the section with data from their judicial system showed 25 liquor referrals and 18 drug violations (Lederman, 1994).

Many college administrators believe some institutions purposefully redirect certain violations to the college judicial system to avoid reporting the crime. As a result, the Department of Education was urged to broaden the definition of campus security authority personnel. The goal was to include administrators such as deans of students and residence directors, two positions often dealing with student judicial violations. This inclusion forces institutions to report all specified crimes. The Department of Education agreed that the definition should be broadened, but was reluctant to specify position titles out of concern that students would lose their right to confidential support and counseling. Accordingly, the new definition of campus security authority includes

in addition to those individuals or organizations specified by the institution's statement of campus security policy as those to whom criminal offenses should be reported, other officials of the institution who have significant responsibility for student and campus activities, but only if those officials do not have significant counseling responsibilities. (Federal Register, 1994, April 29, p. 22316)

By leaving room for interpretation, the window for under-reporting remains open. Unless the law requires information from judicial procedures, accurate information may remain unattainable, fostering an atmosphere that may lessen the level of safety on campuses (Lederman, 1994).


Perhaps the most significant benefit of the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990 is the increased awareness generated about crime on college and university campuses. Now that a growing population understands campuses are not safe havens from all crimes, measures are taken to increase safety and programs are devised which educate and support students who experience crime (Collison, 1993; Dodge, 1991; Lederman, 1993b). More important than statistical information is the requirement that all institutions of higher education must outline policies and procedures for dealing with crime on campus. In addition, an amendment was made in 1993 stipulating that colleges and universities must explain their policies regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault (Lederman, 1994). These requirements push institutions who had no standard operating procedures, or methods that were vague or outdated, to develop comprehensive action plans.

For example, prior to the implementation of the Campus Security Act, sexual assault violations at Brown University were not included as part of the University's student conduct code. Instead, survivors of a sexual assault were advised to consult an attorney. Since its passing, sexual assault has become a formal disciplinary charge (Dodge, 1991). Where once a student survivor would receive little support or justice, now there are means to address the problem.

The legislation has also inspired many colleges and universities to develop innovative and pro-active programs in the fight against crime. Many campuses have increased the number of police officers, incorporated bicycle fleets of officers, enhanced on-campus lighting, provided new or expanded escort services, initiated student patrols, installed new lock systems in residence halls, and even begun using police dogs (Collison, 1993). At Morgan State University, a Crime Prevention Council consisting of faculty, staff, and student members, meets monthly to review crime statistics and strategize means of combating the problems (Collison, 1993). Rutgers University instituted a Sensitive Crimes Unit to handle emotionally charged violations, such as bias crimes. In addition, they enhanced their support services for rape survivors (Lederman, 1993b).

Statistics may also be a powerful tool in terms of protecting budgetary allotments for safety and security programs. As institutions examine what areas can be cut, data showing how current services both reduce crime and comply with the law may help prevent a loss of program dollars. When schools lobby to increase their budgets, the numbers can serve a similar purpose. Bromley states, "If an institution experiences a large number of property crimes, like thefts from dorm rooms, it should think about increasing manpower on the beat or things like better locks. The numbers point that way" (as cited in Lederman, 1993b, p. A33).

Although not part of the original piece of legislation, another advantage resulting from the law concerns victims' rights. College officials, in deference to the Buckley Amendment, previously did not release any information containing identifying information in reference to campus crimes (Jaschik, 1991). This practice not only kept specific information out of campus and local newspapers, but also resulted in many crime victims never knowing the results of relevant judicial hearings.

In March of 1991, a federal court ruled:

The university's view of the privacy law created an inappropriate distinction between students arrested by campus police, who would have their identities protected, and those arrested by city police, whose names could be released to the public. (Jaschik, 1991, p. A23)

The media, often the most frequent inquisitors regarding information on crime, demand details while colleges and universities crave privacy. While the ruling opens campuses for further scrutiny, it also allows victims of crime to find resolution.

Amendments to the Campus Security Act not only require college officials to inform victims of the results of disciplinary proceedings against those accused of violent acts, but also require them to inform victims of the option of criminal prosecution. (Gregory, 1994, p. B1)

The dichotomy between viewing a campus as a safe haven protecting students from crime and one protecting those who commit crimes is dangerous. Each vision is false. College and university campuses must hold students accountable for their actions in order to foster personal development and to educate students on how they can protect themselves or get support if a crime happens to them (Chickering & Reisser, 1993).

The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) recognized the impact of this law on student affairs professionals and oversaw the publication of an informational document regarding how colleges and universities could comply with the Campus Security Act. It states, "[the Act] will involve the entire campus community, not just the safety and security organization, in responding to crime incidents on campus" (NASPA, 1991). Campus-wide committees were recommended, comprised of representatives from a wide range of departments and offices. Such a collegial group is able to provide the most accurate and beneficial information because each member brings current perspectives and knowledge from their respective department, office, or constituancy. This information sharing results in the best possible policies and programs for campus safety.

Questions and Implications for Student Affairs

The Clerys' motto, "To be forewarned is to be forearmed," is a sentiment that motivated them to initiate the Crime Awareness and Campus Safety Act (Ornstein, 1994). As prospective students and their families look for the right college or university, they should not look at crime statistics alone to determine if a campus is a safe place. How a campus responds to the reality of crime needs to be examined. What type of security or police force exists on the campus? How long does it take a security official to respond to a call for assistance? What sort of safety precautions are in place within residence halls? If a student experiences a crime, what services are available?

As colleges fear the negative impact of statistical crime data on their attrition and retention figures, student affairs professionals are in a position to educate both the college community and the general public about the realities of crime on campus and the importance of personal safety. Program development and inter-departmental collaboration are two components which may advance the education of the college community by implementing holistic procedures for dealing with campus crime and safety. People must become aware that numbers do not tell a complete story about campus safety; they are only a headline.


Chickering, A. W., & Reisser, L. (1993). Education and identity (2nd ed.). San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Collison, M. N. K. (1993, January 20). Law may push colleges to spend more on security and campus-police training. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 39 (20), A32 -A33, A43-A44.

Dodge, S. (1991, February 6). With campus crimes capturing public attention, colleges re-evaluate security measures and stiffen some penalties. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 37 (21), A29-A30.

Greene, E. (1988, September 28). Pressed by students and parents, colleges step up their efforts to fight crime on campuses. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 35 (5), A30-A31.

Gregory, D. (1994, April 27). Misguided campaigns for access to students' disciplinary records. The Chronicle of Higher Education, [on line] 40 (37), B1. Available: Netscape, Academe Today.

Jaschik, S. (1991, February 20). Federal judge says 1974 privacy-protection law does not bar colleges from airing crime data. The Chronicle of Higher Education, [on line] 37 (27), A23. Available: Netscape, Academe Today.

Lederman, D. (1993a, January 20). Colleges report 7,500 violent crimes on their campuses in first annual statements required under federal law. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 39 (20), A32-A33.

Lederman, D. (1993b, January 20). Experts say disclosure law allows colleges to omit categories that could give clearer picture of crime. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 39 (20), A33.

Lederman, D. (1994, February 2). Crime on campuses: Increases reported in robberies and assaults; colleges remain confused over federal law. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 40 (22), A31-A41.

National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, (1991, May) Complying with the campus security act 1990: Title II-crime awareness and campus security. (Available from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, 1875 Connecticut Avenue, Suite 418, Washington, DC 20009-5728)

Ornstein, C. (1994, September 14). Colleges, the government, and the public debate value of the "Right to Know" law. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 40 (4), A56.

Student assistance general provisions, campus safety; final rule. (1994, April 29). Federal Register, Part VI, Department of Education.

Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act of 1990, H. R. 883, 101st Cong., 2d Sess. (1990, October 16).

Rachael Kathryn Class graduated from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachussetts, in 1991 where she majored in History and minored in Women's Studies. Before coming to The University of Vermont she worked for three years as a Hall Director. Currently a second year HESA student, Rachael is the Chair of the Graduate Student Advisory Committee and works for the Department of Residential Life.