UT Safety Alert sent out an email last Friday to notify students of a physical altercation that took place off campus, where a student was punched in the back of the head. Although the incident took place off campus, UT was required to report it to students in compliance with the federal Jeanne Clery Act.
The origin of this law dates back to the 1986 rape and murder of Lehigh University student Jeanne Clery. The murder, which occurred in Jeanne’s dorm room, resulted in backlash against unreported crimes on college campuses across the nation. Jeanne’s parents filed a $25 million lawsuit against Lehigh. After settling out of court for an undisclosed amount, they used the settlement to help advocate for legislation requiring more transparency from universities concerning criminal activity on or surrounding campus.
The federal Jeanne Clery Act Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Statistics Act requires all universities who receive federal financial aid to disclose information about crime. A compliance statement was included at the top of Friday’s Safety Alert email.
“A Clery Act applies to crimes that happened within the boundaries of campus and areas that (are) immediately adjacent or accessible to campus,” Assistant Chief of Police Don Verett said. “It could even apply to a property that’s associated with UT like the Pickle Research Center.”
The Clery Act mandates institutions report on murder, sex offenses, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, arson, arrest, hate crimes and other notable incidents.
“If a Clery-defined crime happens in a Clery-reportable geography then we are required to put out a timely warning,” Verett said. “We have discretion over other crimes, but we try to warn the community about on-going threats to campus regardless … even if it’s just a weather alert.”
Biochemistry sophomore Jacquelyn Chan lives off campus and said she is glad to see existing policies that make the safety of her surroundings transparent.
“I walk home late alone every night,” Chan said. “I’m happy to hear that UTPD doesn’t sugarcoat the crimes around us and that they’re willing warn us about potential threats. College campuses, especially a big one like UT, can be quite messy.”
Verett said there are non-Clery crimes that UTPD has or could send out warnings about, such as bicycle theft trends or Peeping Toms.
Although police jurisdiction can overlap between UTPD and the Austin Police Department, Verett said students do not have to worry about who to contact and should just “call 911.”
Verett said notices are sent as soon as UTPD has relevant information.
“We put these notices out of abundance of caution,” Verett said. “We don’t put out a lot of them but they’re necessary to keep the community safe.”
Yasmine Kem, student security coordinator of the Division of Housing and Food Service, said it’s absolutely necessary for UTPD to report crimes even if they didn’t happen on campus.
“The majority of UT students live off-campus,” undeclared sophomore Kem said. “It’s scary to picture what it would be like if UTPD didn’t have to tell us about ongoing crimes and threats just because it didn’t happen in a class.”