Campus security has often centered on high-profile incidents. They create chaos, stir the public and eventually lead to safety legislation.
In a recent examination, Pavement Pieces reviewed a series of campus security statistics and documents. The investigation discovered that the Clery Act, a federal law created to raise campus crime awareness, has long indulged universities to keep the actual crime statistics from community members.
Per federal requirements, universities keep track of crimes in a daily crime log, which is published in an annual report every October. However, the investigation has found discrepancies between the number of crimes reported in each.
In 2023, the NYU daily crime log recorded nearly 900 crime incidents on or around campus—nearly four times the total published in the annual report.

And the discrepancies aren't new. In 2020, the crime log tallied more than 400 crimes, which shrank to 97 in the annual report. Similar gaps are visible in each of the past six years, or as far back as the record can trace.
The lack of communication between Campus Safety departments and their local Police Departments has amplified the discrepancy. In the first half of 2023, NYU Campus Safety and NYPD each reported 485 and 322 incidents taking place in NYU’s Washington Square campus. The two departments shared only 30 incidents.
The elephant on campus
Established in 1990, The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act was renamed in 1998 in memory of Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old who was raped and murdered in her dorm room at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.
The Act requires universities to cover a group of serious crimes but leaves out larceny and sexual harassment, the two most frequent crimes on campus and in New York City. The universities never add non-mandatory crimes to their annual report.
“I don't think that necessarily campuses are often hiding crime,” said Dennis Gregory, a leading researcher on the Clery Act and an associate professor of Higher Education and Community College Leadership at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.
“But I still think they're reluctant to reach out and do the kinds of things that might be great crime prevention, because they don't want to make the campuses feel so unsafe that people don't want to come to school there.”
In addition to limited crime coverage, the Clery Act also requires universities to report on a confined area. According to Matthew Shelosky, associate director of NYU Campus Safety Communications and Engagement, what the document calls a "reasonably contiguous geographic area" includes campus buildings and the sidewalks girding the university property.
However, most universities blend with the city they live in, and it's often hard to draw a clear delineation that separates campuses from their surrounding area. During the past three years, NYU Campus Safety has grappled with the boundaries that define the geography, adjusting the map each time the Report was published.
“Where there is a very urban campus and you're walking city streets in between campus buildings, it becomes even more difficult in a large urban area where the campus is right in the middle of that urban area,” Gregory said.
With the map boundaries closely tailored to the buildings, Campus Security is not obliged to record crimes as close as one block away. For example, if a student is robbed in the W 4 St-Washington Square Station or loses their property in Negril Village across the street from the Kimmel Center for University Life, Campus Safety is not required to, and does not, record the incident.“Regardless of what we determine our Clery geography to be, NYU does not have security-related jurisdiction outside of its owned and controlled spaces,” Shelosky said.

The map illustrates crimes that took place on NYU campus during the first half of 2023. The size of the circle represents the number of crime incidents reported by NYPD and NYU Department of Campus Safety.

Unlike sworn-in officers at law enforcement agencies, Campus Safety officers do not have the right to carry weapons or make arrests. After the safety officers arrive at the scene and put things under control, they’ll have to refer the violent crimes to their local PD.
But the counterpart doesn’t always do the same. In the first half of 2023, the NYPD referred less than 10 percent of total incidents to NYU Campus Safety.
“City municipal police departments are not required legally to report crimes to the campus police officials for the inclusion in the Clery Report,” Gregory said. “So establishing relationships between campus police officials and local municipal police officials is absolutely critical.”
A spinning wheel
In their research published in 2003 in the Journal of College Student Development, Dr. Steven Janosik at Virginia Tech and Dr. Donald Gehring at Bowling Green State University surveyed 9,150 undergraduate students from 305 different universities on their knowledge about the Clery Act.
The research found that only a quarter of students were aware of the Act or the report. Fewer – about 10 percent – students used the crime statistics as a part of choosing their college.
“It is clear that students remain unaware of the Act and do not use the information contained in the summary or annual report,” Gregory commented in a literature review published in Stetson Law Review.
As an unfunded federal mandate, the Clery Act gives no grant but fines the universities that fail the audit. A typical fine would fall in the range of $15,000 and $25,000; for higher-profile cases that involved greater fault, the fine can be as high as millions of dollars. In 2019, Michigan State University was fined $4.5 million for sexual abuse.
Researchers like Gregory have criticized the lack of incentives. And over the years, other case studies have deemed the Act inefficient. 
“The Clery Act and crime on campus is, in my mind, an indictment of the way we look at crime generally across the country. And the need for Clery has become increasingly important as a result of that,” Gregory said.
However, the federal government has made no change for the past three decades, and the many universities have never gone beyond the basic requirements.
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