Division of Criminal Justice Services

Missing Persons Clearinghouse

Campus Safety... Are You Concerned?

Likeness of Suzanne Lyall

"We Thought That Tragedies Like This Only Happen To Other People."

By Douglas & Mary Lyall

On March 2, 1998, we received a telephone call that changed our lives forever. We were informed that our daughter Suzanne was missing from the State University of New York at Albany. Our reaction was one of disbelief and shock, leaving us confused and unable to think clearly. We know our daughter well and we were positive that she had not run away. Reluctantly, we faced the realization that we would not wake from this "bad dream." Life would not return to normal. We began to accept the unthinkable, that harm had come to her.

But how could this happen? We believed that tragedies like this only happened to other people. We thought that missing people were those who took undue risks by using street drugs or by hitchhiking, not to wholesome, responsible young lady like our daughter. How wrong we were. We were not prepared for this catastrophic event. How could we be?

We were very fortunate to have the help and cooperation of the University Police Department. They began looking for Suzanne immediately and reported her disappearance to local police departments without delay. However, all too often disappearances are not viewed as serious events. As a result, valuable time is lost. We are also aware that due to issues such as jurisdiction, the response of law enforcement agencies is not always as effective as it could be. These kinds of issues, if not resolved in advance, can mean costly delays.

Every parent must have confidence that they will be notified without delay if their child is unaccounted for. No one should be told that a waiting period must pass before an investigation can be initiated.

In our case, as time passed in the investigation we became aware that there were many needs that the police could not easily address. They had their hands full just handling the investigation. Questions and concerns included dealing with media and getting posters distributed. We needed the help of someone who could listen, advise, and refer us to other services. By searching and by chance, we found many experts in the community who have and continue to help us along the way.

This section summarizes the New York State "Campus Safety Act" and the Federal "Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act". It also offers specific information about staying safe and about available resources. This information is intended to instill a sense of caution, not a sense of fear.

What Is The NYS Campus Safety Act?

Picture of Missing College Student GuideThis law was enacted in 1999. It was prompted by the unexplained disappearance of Suzanne Lyall from the State University of New York at Albany campus in 1998. The reforms made by this lawacknowledge that improving campus safety must begin with swift and efficient investigative action and optimum access to missing person information by student's families and the public.

The Act:

  • Requires all public, private, community colleges and universities in New York State to have formal plans that provide for the investigation of missing students and violent felony offenses committed on campus.
  • Expands the responsibilities of the NYS DCJS Missing and Exploited Children Clearinghouse to provide assistance with the dissemination of information about missing college students.

What Is The Federal "Jeanne Clery" Act?

The "Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Statistics Act" was enacted in 1990. It is named in memory of 19-year-old Lehigh University freshman Jeanne Ann Clery, who was assaulted and murdered while asleep in her residence hall room in 1986. This law requires institutions which participate in any federal student aid programs to address the following:

  • Crime Statistics. Institutions must disclose campus crime statistics for the three previous calendar years in the following categories: homicide, sex offenses, robbery, assault, burglary, vehicle theft and arson. They are also required to provide statistics for alcohol, drug and weapons possession arrests or referrals for campus disciplinary action.
  • Timely Warnings. Institutions must, in a manner that is timely and will aid in the prevention of similar crimes, report to the campus community on crimes that are covered by this act, reported to campus security authorities, and considered by the institution to represent a threat to students and employees.
  • Policy Disclosures. In addition to the disclosure of known crime statistics, various policies such as to whom crimes should be reported and a description of the campus security arrangement are also required. Schools are also required to maintain a daily public crime log.
  • Campus Sexual Assault Victims Bill of Rights. Security policies must specifically address sex offense prevention. In cases of alleged sexual assault, the accuser and accused must have the same opportunity to have others present, both parties must be informed of the outcome of any disciplinary proceeding, and survivors must be informed of their options with regard to notifying law enforcement, obtaining counseling and changing academic living situations.

How Does My Campus Safety Measure Up?

Schools with aggressive crime reporting and low tolerance for criminal behavior tend to provide safer places of learning where students can focus on their educational goals.

Questions to ask the Admissions Office, Dean of Students or the Campus Public Safety Department include:

  • Does the school publish campus crime information as required by the Student Right-To-Know and Campus Security Act of 1990? If so, obtain a copy.
  • Do annual crime statistics include reports from the dean's office, residence life office and counseling centers? Ask how many and what type of cases were handled by the school judicial committee during the previous year.
  • Are security logs open for public inspection?
  • Are policies and penalties related to campus crime explicitly addressed during orientation and published by the school? Does the school have written policies and procedures for handling alcohol, drug and weapons laws?
  • Does the school provide immediate medical, psychological, and legal aid to victims, as required by the Federal Campus Sexual Assault Victim's Bill of Rights?
  • Do dormitories have central entrance/exit where access is restricted and preferably, monitored? If there is not a staffed reception area, an outside telephone should be available to visitors who must call a resident to gain access.
  • Dormitories and room doors should be equipped with good quality locking mechanisms (which are always secured).
  • Dormitory residents should insist that residential assistants and security patrols routinely check for unlocked and/or "propped" exterior doors and windows.

What Should I Do With the Results of My Inquiries?

Calculate campus crimes per thousand students and compare them with other schools. If the statistics appear to be higher than other institutions, they may indicate that there is more crime on your campus. Or conversely, they may indicate that your school is very aggressive in the reporting and investigation of criminal activity. Balance your evaluation by combining subjective impressions with calculations.

What Can Students Do To Promote Safety?

  1. Whether in person or on the Internet, know who you are befriending. Do not disclose personal information or place yourself in a vulnerable situation until you know people and know them well! If their opinions and actions are inconsistent with yours, limit or discontinue interactions.
  2. Exercise caution with regard to having photos and personal information disseminated in campus publications. Students have been "targeted" through the use of this information.
  3. Survey the campus and adjacent areas. Determine and use the safest routes between you residence, work, classes and activity locations. Are emergency telephones available? Are walkways frequently traveled or somewhat isolated? Are parking lots well lit and patrolled frequently? if you need to seek help quickly, are there places nearby where people tend to congregate? This knowledge gives you an important "edge".
  4. Create a "buddy" system by sharing your schedule with parents, roommate and close friends. Advise your roommate or leave a timed and dated note if you intend to change your normal schedule, particularly if you will not be returning in the evening. Give a network list of telephone numbers to your parents, academic advisor and friends.
  5. Whenever possible, travel in groups or use a shuttle service after daylight hours. Avoid short-cuts and walking alone at night.
  6. Do not loan your dormitory key or access card to anyone. Promptly have locks changed or reprogrammed if your keys or access card is lost or stolen. Always keep doors and windows locked.
  7. Never leave your valuable possessions (e.g., identification, wallets, checks, jewelry, credit cards) in open view.
  8. If your telephone has a speed dialer, program it with emergency numbers that include family and close friends.
  9. Learn basic escape techniques and occasionally practice them to maintain proficiency.
  10. Promptly report suspicious activities or unlawful conduct. Doing so can make a difference!
  11. If you intend to live off-campus, carefully evaluate facilities and ensure that they meet your minimum safety standards. Do you feel comfortable in the building, with the neighbors and in the neighborhood? Is the building well maintained? Is the building owner or manager responsive to questions and needs?

For additional college campus safety information, visit the following sites.

  • OPE Campus Security Statistics Logo

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