One night in 1986, a young college student was murdered in her dorm room at Lehigh University. She did not know her attacker, a fellow student, had been stalking her for some time. She did not know that there had been several reports of violent incidents on her campus in the months leading to her tragic death, and thus she did not feel that she was in any danger. She did not know any of this, because no one was required to tell her.
The young woman’s name was Jeanne Clery. The efforts made in her name by her parents and many others eventually led to the passage of the Jeanne Clery Act, which requires a variety of regulations concerning safety on campuses to be consistently followed.
The Clery Center for Security on Campus is a non-profit group that is dedicated to educating campuses around the country on both the letter and the spirit of the Clery Act.
“One thing that we always reiterate when working with both students and campus professionals is that safety is a community issue,” wrote Abigail Boyer, the center’s Assistant Executive Director of Programs, in an email interview. “Everyone within a campus community should know what resources are available and when and how to intervene or report if someone is at risk.”
In an effort to empower students and faculty through knowledge of how safe their surroundings really are, the Clery Act requires that schools publish an Annual Safety Report, which must detail crime statistics, outline emergency response plans for such incidents as fires and campus shootings, and include procedures for coordinating with city and state law enforcement. According to PCC Interim Police Chief Steven Matchan, the report is crucial in determining how campus police resources are utilized.
“We base everything off of these stats, so that we can make sure that when our people are needed the most, we are able to schedule that based on those numbers,” said Matchan.
In addition to the annual report, a log of reported crimes must be made available to the public on a weekly basis.
Boyer indicated that the U.S. Department of Education monitors compliance with the Clery Act. A school failing to meet the law’s standards faces the severe penalty of losing federal financial aid eligibility. However, Matchan expressed confidence in PCC’s continued adherence to the law.
“We work with [the Clery Center] all the time,” said Matchan. “We have a designated Clery staff person who keeps us updated regularly, and we adjust based on that information.”
Although the Clery Act helps ensure that accurate safety information is available to the public, several departments at PCC share the job of acting upon such information.
Dr. Richard Beyer of Psychological Services was traveling in Europe when he learned of the Virginia Tech shooting that took the lives of 32 innocent people in 2007. He knew he had to examine PCC’s procedures to ensure a similar incident would not occur here.
In the aftermath of the shooting, it was revealed that the perpetrator displayed several warning signs to students and staff, but that no one person had a clear picture of how troubled he really was.
“Everybody had little bits and pieces of the information, but they weren’t communicating, and no one put the pieces of the puzzle together,” said Beyer. “If they had done that, they may have said, ‘Wait a minute, we’ve got to reach out to this guy.’”
In an effort to keep communication lines open between multiple departments that have an interest in public safety, Beyer started the Crisis Prevention and Response Team, or C-PART, in 2008.
Four departments make up the regular bi-monthly meetings of C-PART: Psychological Services, represented by Beyer and his colleague Dr. Amanda Han; Student Affairs, represented by Dr. Cynthia Olivo; Health Services, represented by Jo Ann Buczko; and the PCC Police, represented by Interim Chief Steven Matchan.
Beyer said that the group concentrates on direct threats to the well-being of students or staff, violent or otherwise.
“It may not be [a violent threat], it could be about hacking into someone’s email,” he said. “Anything that would be an invasion of someone’s rights would probably come to C-PART.“
On any campus, it is a given that there are courses that may encourage students to explore darker sides of themselves, so spotting potential threats can be difficult.
“It is a judgment call based on our experience as psychologists,” said Beyer. “We have a violence risk assessment protocol that we use, but that isn’t done every time a student writes a [suspicious] paper.”
“We’ll call them in, we just talk with them, because if we start implementing that, then the more savvy students will say, ‘I want an attorney with me,’” he added. “But they’re not under arrest, we’re just trying to find out if they are under such distress that they may cause harm to themselves or others.”
Once enough information is gathered, Beyer will meet with the other C-PART members to get their perspectives and decide on a course of action.
“We look at it as taking action with a student, not against a student,” he said. “We’re trying to collaborate with a student to resolve the problems.”
While one of C-PART’s main functions is information sharing, Beyer insists that the close collaboration between Psychological Services and PCC Police does not represent any additional privacy risk for students seeking help.
Students must sign a consent form that allows their psychological information to be released only if the student is a threat to him/herself or others, is gravely disabled, or if a court order demands it. In all of these instances, the student is informed of the information’s release.
However, if the FBI requests psychological records, Beyer said the school is bound by the Patriot Act to turn them over without informing the student.
Aside from recognizing and preventing potential threats, C-PART aims to improve campus safety through training of faculty and staff on how to recognize a potential threat and report it to the appropriate department.
“We work in conjunction with each other to provide that type of [crime] prevention and awareness training to instructors who ask us for it,” said Matchan. “A lot of times, people don’t know what each department can provide rather than just the title.”
“For the last two years during our teacher development day, we had 3-hour workshops for faculty who wanted to come in and talk about active shooters, as well as C-PART in general,” added Beyer.
In addition to training staff, C-PART members frequently attend events to gain more insight into campus safety issues and to collaborate with UC schools that PCC students may be transferring to, said Han.
“It’s an ongoing process, we’re all still learning and we care about our students and we want them to do well,” she said, “but at the same time we are very protective of our students and staff here, to make sure it’s a safe environment for everybody.”