arleton State University made a mistake. And the university has spent the past three years trying to prevent a second one.
Tarleton failed to accurately report crimes on campus under the Clery Act, a federal law which requires colleges and universities across the nation to report campus crimes on an annual basis, for its 2005 and 2006 annual security reports and a 2007 revised report.
The mistake has been a costly one for the university, amounting to $137,500 in fines from the Department of Education. However, Tarleton began correcting its error long before the final ticket was written.
The university has initiated several procedures on campus to ensure another costly incident does not happen, including monthly reports from the Tarleton Police Department, the creation of a Clery Compliance Committee and additional training for its police officers.
“All of these measures were put into place before we received that fine,” Assistant Vice President for Marketing and Communications Eliza Benedict said. “It was in response to the fact that we, internally, were upset that we had not complied up to this point and we wanted to ensure that we took steps (to improve) and that our future was 100 percent compliant. We are pleased with the efforts we have made so far and we know we need to continue to make efforts in the future as well.”
Benedict said the effort was made possible through a number of people on campus working extremely hard and dedicating long hours to the process. Two of the important key players over the past two years have been Tarleton Police Chief Justin Williams and Kent Styron, chair of the Clery Compliance Committee.
“There are several eyes that now review any (security) report before it is actually published,” Benedict said.
The Clery Compliance Committee was established in the fall of 2007 and is comprised of one representative from Academic Affairs, Finance and Administration, Enrollment and Information Management, Student Life and Institutional Advancement and the Chief of Police. The committee’s main objective is to review the preliminary annual report, which is submitted to the Department of Education.
The committee took its task seriously and completed educational Webinar training, Styron said.
“We had different skill sets and we just wanted to make sure ultimately, number one, we got the training so we could be provided the guidance and review the information appropriately,” Styron said.
In conjunction with the Clery Compliance Committee, the Tarleton Police Department took additional steps to ensure compliance of reporting campus crimes.
“Basically, what we are doing to ensure a better knowledge platform is additional training that has been obtained by responsible staff,” Williams said. “It’s a continually evolving process because there are changes almost every year made to the Clery Act and the annual security report requirements.”
Williams has required three officers, including himself, to attend the required training for Clery Act compliance.
The department also has a procedure to determine if reported offenses on campus are Clery reportable or not. If the offense is considered a required reportable crime under the Clery Act, the department logs and investigates it, then enters it into a monthly statistic notebook, which is reviewed and submitted to the chief of police. At the end of the year, all of the monthly reports are compiled and handed over to the Clery Compliance Committee for review.
Monthly Clery reports contain five sections - a statistic sheet, an internal crime log, a public crime log, criminal cases and an internal spreadsheet. The reports are available through review, as are daily crime logs, through the police department.
“Crime logs are up to date based on what is in the computer system,” Williams said. “That is something (we) can pull anytime.”
Administrative updates are not the only changes Williams has made since his tenure as chief began in December 2007.
“We’ve moved our policing from the exterior of campus in patrol cars to the interior of campus on foot and in carts,” Williams said. “We are more visible, we’re more approachable and we are focused more where the people are than the streets around the university. That’s been a change in philosophy.”
And his philosophy is working.
Under Williams’ direction, the department has added two officer positions and increased training for its officers, allowing more to be certified in areas that ultimately benefit student and campus safety.
Under his watch, the department has certified an additional instructor for the university’s Rape Aggressive Defense (RAD) course and two instructors for the ALERT Active Shooter Response Program.
“We are one of the few universities that has (instructors),” he said. “And we are working with other law enforcement agencies to begin training them.”
In addition to programs, which educate students, the department offers a number of security devices on campus. There are 19 blue light phones positioned around campus, which are all direct lines to the control center. There is also an escort service for students commuting across campus after daylight hours.
Officers are also on foot patrol of residence halls, libraries and all the buildings on campus.
And if that doesn’t make students, parents and faculty feel secure, the university has a way to notify individuals of a campus crisis - Code Purple.
“It’s an emergency notification system,” Styron said. “Students understand that if we do have something on campus we have a way to notify them with Code Purple. That helps with putting them at ease for that service to be had.”
Williams said Code Purple was a universal response to the Virginia Tech incident where students and faculty were shot on campus and it is another avenue to provide safety alerts to parents, students and faculty.
Williams attended 14 freshman orientations this year where he spoke with parents about safety concerns on campus.
“All I talk about is the safety of the campus - what it is we do and the services we provide,” Williams said. “The thing about policing in a college environment is it is completely different from policing in a municipal environment based upon the services they provide.”
Benedict, Williams and Styron all believe Tarleton is a safe campus.
“The belief before the (underreporting), and now, is that Tarleton is a safe campus,” Benedict said. “We do provide a safe campus for our students. Obviously any incident that happens is addressed and not an incident that we want (on campus). We’d love to have zero incidents.”
Styron, a 1987 and 2003 Tarleton graduate, said that individuals involved in the Clery Act reporting process take it personally because of ties to the university.
“There are several people involved in the process that are Tarleton graduates,” he said. “So we take personal pride in making sure that our university and our students are safe and the parents feel comfort in knowing their (children) will be safe when going to school here.”