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UConn police expecting fines, making changes

By Jackie Wattles
On January 30, 2014

  • The new husky was introduced at the Board of Trustees meeting. Compliance with the Clery Act was discussed at the meeting. Mingyuan Chen/The Daily Campus

More than a year after it was first audited, University of Connecticut Chief of Police Barbara O'Connor told the school's board of trustees that she is expecting UConn to see fines for noncompliance with the federal Clery Act.


The Clery Act was passed by Congress in 1990 and requires colleges and universities that receive federal Title IV money to comply with its guidelines. Among them, schools must publish an annual security report by October each year detailing crime statistics, release emergency alters following dangerous crimes that may "pose a continuing threat" and devise emergency notification policies and procedures.


The law aims to provide current and potential students with the information necessary to evaluate overall campus safety. O'Connor described the law as a complex web of procedures with strict reporting requirements and "poorly defined" language.


"It is a very complicated area of the law to enforce and comply with," she said.


The law has also been amended several times, most recently in 2008. UConn was audited by the Department of Education in 2011 ¬- along with several other northeastern universities - to check for compliance with the act. A report from UConn's audit has yet to be released, but O'Connor said she expects it to reveal shortcomings in the university's conformity to the law.


"We do know that UConn had some deficiencies and is likely to face some fines," she said.


If UConn is fined, it won't be alone. Last April, Yale University was fined $165,000 for inadequate reporting of campus crime statistics - including failure to disclose four incidences of sexual assault on campus.


But O'Connor said minor violations of the law could rack up large fees as well. She mentioned the University of Vermont, which was also audited and fined about $80,000 despite having a chief of police who was a national expert on the Clery Act at the time.
O'Connor was not the chief of police at the time of UConn's audit, but she said she made compliance with the act a priority when she took the post in 2012 (she is preceded by Robert Hudd, who retired amid a controversy over his more than $250,000 annual salary).


In O'Connor's first year as chief, the UConn Police Department contracted with D. Stafford & Associates - a consulting firm specializing in Clery Act compliance - to continue auditing and gain immediate feedback.


The consulting firm came back with 75 recommendations for improvement "in areas ranging from the timeliness of crime alerts to the collection of crime data to the training of employees categorized as 'campus safety authorities,'" according to a Jan. 28 press release from O'Connor.


She said many of the recommendations have already been heeded, and the university has since hired a full-time Clery Compliance officer - Caitlin Farr, a former UConn police officer.


But the Clery Act has been in place for more than two decades, and 2012 was the first year UConn used Clery Act guidelines for its annual safety report. The audit will have only looked into the years 2008-2010, but O'Connor said the safety report is where she expects most of the university's violations to be found.


The Department of Education enumerates charges for specific violations - including $27,500 for each misreported crime. But O'Connor said whenever the audit report is first released there will be room to negotiate the penalties with the department. She said the steps the university has already taken to improve compliance should help.


UConn President Susan Herbst applauded O'Connor's efforts and said she recognizes the complexity of the law and difficulty of complying with its reporting requirements.
"It's very vague right now, there's a lot of interpretation," Herbst said. "We're so glad we have a very experienced chief, because at the end of the day, there are a lot of judgment calls."
 

To see the full Clery Act audit as conducted by D. Stafford and Associates, click here.


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