The Safer Campus
Improving the Safety of Your Campus Environment
- By Ellen Kollie
- July 1st, 2014
“From a moral standpoint, campus administrators have an obligation to provide the most reasonably safe environments they can, given what the higher education community knows about risks, such as sexual assault, mental health issues, burglary and even challenges unique to individual campuses, such as urban communities,” says Steven Healy, managing partner and co-founder of Burlington, VT-based Margolis Healy, which specializes in campus safety, security and regulatory compliance for the higher education and K–12 markets.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY
Most administrators want to do the right thing in creating a safe campus environment, yet it is an ongoing challenge, complicated by tight budgets and increasing regulations. Even President Obama is getting involved in campus safety, establishing the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault (just one of many
safety issues administrators face) with a mandate to strengthen federal enforcement efforts and provide schools with additional tools to combat sexual assault on their campuses. “Pragmatically, any guidance that comes from the Task Force,” says Healy, “such as the 20-page Not Alone report [the Task Force’s first report, offering a set of action steps and recommendations] (www.notalone.gov), issued in April, provides the community additional tools and best practices that they can consider when trying to do a better job at preventing and responding to issues of sexual harassment/assault.”
How else can administrators put their best feet forward in creating safety? There are a number of ways.
Comply with Regulations
The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act requires colleges and universities to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses. It is tied to their participation in federal student financial aid programs, and it is enforced by the Department of Education.
The very name — Clery Act — might send shivers down the spines of many administrators. It’s tough enough to collect information about crime on campus, much less about crime around campus. Also, meeting reporting requirements is challenging, in that “the rules of defining the geography and the counting and classifying are not consistent with the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) and National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS),” observes August J. Washington, assistant vice chancellor and chief of Police for Nashville-based Vanderbilt University.
Still, the best act is compliance with the Act. This may mean assigning one staff person the responsibility of compliance. “I think that, for some institutions, there’s a lack of importance placed on the significance of the Clery Act,” says Healy. “This isn’t a sweeping statement, but I think some folks think you can assign compliance as a secondary responsibility and all will be well. The Clery Act is a significant piece of legislation that requires the commitment of significant resources to achieve compliance.” He recommends visiting his firm’s website (www.margolishealy. com) for a free, downloadable page called “5 Ways to Immediately Enhance Your Clery Compliance Program.” “These are things that are doable without a lot of additional resources,” he sums.
Then there’s Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities operated by recipients of federal financial assistance. Again, the best approach is complete compliance, and that begins with the employment of a Title IX coordinator, as required.
The Department of Education has released (for transparency) the names of schools being investigated for breaking Title IX laws. An investigation doesn’t mean the law has been broken, but it does mean that additional precious resources are applied to cooperating with the investigation. Compliance reduces the risk of an investigation, which saves those resources.
SAFETY VIA COMMITTEE
“There are so many things campus officials must think about in terms of safety and security,” says Steven Healy, managing partner and co-founder of Burlington, VT-based Margolis Healy, “that, if I were to indicate one thing they can do to improve the safety of the campus environment, it would be to create a formally charged safety and security committee that looks at various issues affecting safety and security, and there are many. Sexual assaults are foremost in our minds today, but, following the Virginia Tech incident, behavioral threats are also at the top of the list. There’s wisdom in groups. A community approach is a good way to start to wrap your head around defining your vulnerabilities and threats and determining how to address them.”
Reach for Accreditation
There are a number of accrediting bodies that teach toward the efficient use of resources and increased accountability. The benefits of creating a safe campus are great, as Washington notes. “As the chief,” he says, “I have confidence that my staff is doing what I expect them to do as stated in the policies and procedures I sign because, to comply with the accreditation standards, we have to do what we say we do. Another benefit is the development of and improved relationship with our community and other law enforcement agencies, because accreditation promotes cooperation and coordination internally within an agency and externally with other agencies, such as the Law Enforcement Accreditation Coalition of Tennessee (LEACT).”
One accrediting body is the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA, www.calea.org). The purpose of CALEA’s accreditation programs, according to its website, “is to improve the delivery of public safety services, primarily by maintaining a body of standards, developed by public safety practitioners, covering a wide range of up-to-date public safety initiatives; establishing and administering an accreditation process; and recognizing professional excellence.”
Another accrediting body is the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA, www.iaclea.org), which advances public safety for educational institutions by providing educational resources, advocacy and professional development services.
A HIGHER STANDARD. Adherence to the highest standards of professionalism and excellence is vital to the success of campus public safety departments in fulfilling their mission to protect students, faculty, staff, and any and all visitors to college and university campuses. August J. Washington, assistant vice chancellor and chief of Police for Nashville-based Vanderbilt University, proudly oversees a department that has the distinction of being the first in the country to boast triple accreditation, including CALEA, IACLEA and the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police. “Accreditation promotes cooperation and coordination internally within an agency and externally with other agencies,” he notes.
Vanderbilt University has the distinction of being the first university in the country to boast triple accreditation, including CALEA, IACLEA and Tennessee Law Enforcement Accreditation (TLEA), which is earned through the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police. Washington explains that the motivation for earning triple accreditation is to provide excellence in university police services. “To explain further is to specifically address the unique compliance components of each accrediting organization,” he says. “CALEA provides a full range of law enforcement compliance standards that, in the beginning, didn’t include guidance to law enforcement agencies for university-related security concerns. IACLEA’s focus is on providing services to the campus environment that includes guidance for campus emergency phones and camera surveillance that typically not are a factor for municipal, county and state law enforcement departments. And TLEA provides specific standards to our state, such as compliance with the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines. Compliance with health and safety is vital because we have large healthcare facilities and a major research institution.”
Further, accreditation allows the campus community to have a real sense of security. “Without accreditation, our department could operate adequately and provide safety measures,” Washington explains, “but the accreditation standards that deal with procedures for proactively addressing potential concerns or risks to our campus gives our university an increased level of security services. For example, we could decide to check on the status of emergency phones and panic alarms once every two years, but accreditation sets specific guidelines for a minimum of quarterly checks.”
There are a number of organizations whose sole purpose is education, guidance and training. Seek them out and take advantage of all they have to offer.
One such organization is the Clery Center for Security On Campus (http://clerycenter.org), a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing violence, substance abuse and other crimes on college and university campuses across the United States, and to compassionately assist the victims of such crimes. The organization provides two-day training seminars to make the Act understandable and easy to carry out.
Another organization is the National Association for Clery Compliance Officers and Professionals (NACCOP, www.naccop.org), which provides a professional association for Clery compliance officers and professionals to collaborate with each other and share resources and best practices. According to the website, “NACCOP delivers members with resources to enhance their knowledge of the Clery Act by offering education and training opportunities for the employees who are acting as Clery compliance officers on college campuses as well as information about Clery-related news and legislative updates.”
The Association of Title IX Administrators (ATIXA, www.atixa.org) is a professional association for school and college Title IX coordinators and administrators who are interested in serving their districts and campuses more effectively via professional collaboration to explore best practices, share resources and advance the worthy goal of gender equity in education. The organization offers professional development through its Title IX Coordinator Training and Certification Course.
When looking to improve your safety and security, shoot for the stars. Healy explains why. “There are so many pieces and parts of an institution that contribute to student safety and well being that it’s difficult to put a price tag on safety and security,” he says. “And it’s not just about university police; it’s about emergency management, student affairs, prevention programs and support resources. When you figure the total cost of all those initiatives, it’s well into the millions of dollars. It’s an expensive enterprise but institutions find, if they’re sued, that the investments are pennies on the dollar when compared to the cost of civil litigation and fines.”
This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.