At face value, Penn State seems like a scarier place, as the number of crime reports have increased over the past year, S. Daniel Carter said.
But, in reality, more crimes have not actually occurred. Rather, fewer crimes go unreported, said Carter, director of 32 National Campus Safety Index of VTV Family Outreach Foundation.
This improvement is a direct result of Penn State hiring Penn State Compliance Manager Gabriel Gates, who has increased the awareness around reporting crimes, Steve Shelow, assistant vice president for university police and public safety, said.
Gates started on March 26, 2012 in a position where his sole responsibility is to interpret, manage and execute the compliance of the Jeanne Clery Act, Shelow said.
The Clery Act requires universities and colleges to disclose crime information, according to the Security on Campus organization.
“[The Clery Act] can be a little complex because it’s vague,” Gates said.
The act is open to subjectivity and interpretation, Gates said. There are examples in the Clery Act handbook, but it rarely says “you can’t do this or you should do that,” Gates said.
The Clery Act had little to no guidance on how to follow it for multiple years, Carter said. The university setting is “unique” because multiple campus officials have to report crimes, and not all crimes are directly reported to the university police, Carter said. Also, the Clery Act has to balance the needs of a variety of campus structures, from small colleges to large institutions, Carter said.
“A very complex set of circumstances led to a very complex law,” Carter said.
The vision of the Clery Act started out small, as a law to inform students of the level of campus safety, but when the bureaucratic process became involved, the guidelines became complex, Carter said.
Previously working at Maersk Line, Limited, Gates said he was “most likely hired” because of his experience implementing compliance management over large, complex industries.
The Clery Act compliance manger was recommended by former FBI director Louis Freeh as one of 119 recommendations in the Freeh report, Carter said. But questions of the university’s policy for the Clery Act were already raised, as previously reported.
In the past, the responsibilities were given to the university police, university affairs and human resources, Shelow said. The groups still have a role in the report, but Gates oversees their efforts, Shelow said.
“[Compliance manager is] not just somebody crunching numbers, but someone quite visible,” Shelow said.
Gates’ responsibility is to interpret the law for all Penn State campuses and to write the annual security report due Oct. 1 for each campus. The report contains three years’ worth of data and specific information on security procedures. The data is collected from Penn State Police, State College Police, Pennsylvania State Police and the Office of Student Conduct, Shelow said.
Part of Gates’ job is to ensure that crimes are not counted twice. This past year, Gates revised all the reports prior to Oct 1. 2012, he said.
Gates worked with the Clery Center for Security on Campus and Margolis, Healy and Associates to develop a training program for 3,000 individuals, who, under the Clery Act, undertake reporting crime requirements as part of their position. His policy also requires employees complete refresher courses on the Clery Act and on reporting crimes, he said. These requirements are “almost unheard of,” he said. Because of the strict policies that Gates enforces, Penn State is, in Gates’ opinion, at the top of the Clery compliance in the nation, he said.
After a crime occurs, the 3,000 individuals who are mandated reporters are expected to notify Gates, who will then decide if the occurrence requires a timely issuing to the public, he said. The reporting covers the university itself and College Avenue, Gates said.
The goal is for students to feel comfortable reporting crimes, but still 80 to 90 percent of sexual assaults go unreported, Gates said. Those who do not report have their own reasons to do so, Gates said, adding that he would never pressure those people to come to the police. But he said he does encourage reporting so that people can receive help.
“We want to be completely transparent about any sexual assaults that have occurred,” Gates said.
The timely sexual assault warnings that students have received through text and email are the results of this position, Gates said.
“[The warnings are] so far above and beyond what Clery requires you to do,” Gates said.
But students are not notified of every reported crime, Gates said. For example, if a wallet with $10 was stolen, he would not notify all students.
A university environment is different than working in a city or large town, Gates said. Many of the crimes Gates sees are alcohol-related, he said.
“The campus is alive,” Gates said. “Students really care about their community and what’s going on.”
But the job does come with some difficulties, such as ensuring every campus is following the same procedures, Gates said. This requires constant travel between the Penn State campuses, he said.
Though Penn State received media attention following the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse case, Gates said it did not affect his day-to-day activity.
Universities across the nation have called Gates to solicit advice, to ask about interpretations or to learn about Penn State’s Clery Compliance program, Gates said. He said he receives at least one call a week. Gates said that about 5 to 10 percent of universities have a Clery Compliance manager.
“It is uncommon, and it is something that is getting a lot of attention,” Shelow said.
For the future, Gates said he wants to expand his office. Also, he said, policies are in constant development.
“How do we become the leader to other colleges to look up to us to get their program where it needs to be?” he said. “What I really hope to accomplish is… to be the gold standard.”