Effective December 17, 2014, New York colleges and universities are required to notify law enforcement agencies as soon as practicable, but no later than twenty-four (24) hours after receiving a report of a violent felony or that a student who resides in institution-owned or operated student housing is missing. Laws of New York 2014, Chapter 486 (amending Education Law §§355(17)(a), 6206(15)(a), 6306(8-a) & 6434(1)).
The Disappearance of Suzanne Lyall
On March 2, 1998, Suzanne Lyall, a University at Albany student, went missing. Lyall’s disappearance prompted the New York State Legislature to pass the Campus Safety Act (“Act”) in 1999. The Act required that colleges and universities have a plan to notify local law enforcement of violent felonies or missing persons from campus. The original bill, however, did not actually require the institution to report the incident to authorities, but simply have a plan in place to do so. The new amendments to the Act now require that colleges and universities must report as soon as possible, but no later than twenty-four (24) hours after receiving notice of the problem.
Notifying Law Enforcement About a Violent Felony or Missing Student
In addition to notifying law enforcement about a missing student, under the Act, colleges and universities are also mandated to report violent felonies, that include, but are not limited to, arson, kidnapping, physical assault with a deadly weapon, burglary, robbery and many firearm offenses. See N.Y. Penal Law § 70.02(1) for the exhaustive list of violent felonies institutions must report under the Act.
Reporting of sexual offenses (including rape, sexual assault, etc.) is a huge exception to the Act’s amendments. The Act requires that institutions take into consideration statutes such as the federal Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights, 20 U.S.C. § 1092(f), which provides the victim of a sexual offense with the right to decide whether or not to report such offense to law enforcement agencies. To comply with the Act and other federal regulations, such as the Clery Act, colleges and universities should notify the victim in writing of his/her rights and options, including, but not limited to, the importance of preserving evidence, to whom the offense may be reported, and that he/she has the right to report the incident to law enforcement if he/she chooses. Colleges and universities should also provide the victim with information about how to make a report to law enforcement and offer assistance should the victim wish to report the incident.
There may be other changes to an institution’s responsibilities under the Violence Against Women Act; Office For Civil Rights, “Dear Colleague” Guidance Letter - (Apr. 4, 2011) http://www2.edgov/about/offices/list/ocr/ letters/colleague-201104.html; the Clery Act; Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20. U.S.C. §§ 1681-1688 (2012); Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (2012); New York employment laws; New York Human Rights Laws; and other statutes and regulations, so it is important for each educational institution to consult legal counsel to determine the effects and specific application to its institution.