In some cases, the specificity of definitions seems to allow campuses to minimize the reporting of certain types of crime. Burglary, for example, is defined as "unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or a theft."

A recent case at Morgan shows how fine the distinction is between burglary and theft. A summer student's laptop was stolen from his room on a July evening, according to a police report. The next day, another student found someone trying to sell the laptop and returned it to its owner, according to the report.

But Morgan State Police classified the crime as a theft because the investigating officer found no evidence that anyone had broken into the student's room. Adrian Wiggins, Morgan's outgoing police chief, said any of the student's three roommates, who were not interviewed by police, could have stolen the laptop, as could anyone they might have invited into the room.

The university's officers complained about a culture of underreporting offenses in a 2010 vote of no confidence in Wiggins and in a recent letter to Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler.

In the letter, Thaddeus Davis of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge No. 142, wrote that department leadership "is under reporting crimes in an effort to conceal a problem with crime on and around Morgan's campus."

Wiggins denied the allegation. "I'm trying very hard, and the university is working very hard, to follow the letter and the spirit of the statute," Wiggins said.

Gansler's office confirmed it received the letter but declined to comment further.

Since the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, much scrutiny of the Clery Act has focused on its "timely warning" requirement. The law requires an alert if a Clery crime has been reported to campus or local authorities and if the crime is "considered by the institution to represent a serious or continuing threat to students and employees."

But the judgment calls on "serious or imminent" threats are not clear. Some Morgan State students questioned why the university did not issue an alert after Kinyua was arrested and accused of brutally assaulting a fellow student outside a campus residence on May 19. Less than two weeks later, after posting bond, Kinyua was accused of dismembering a family friend and eating his heart and some of his brain at a Harford County residence.

Kinyua also had been described as a "Virginia Tech waiting to happen" in an earlier campus police report.

Morgan officials have said they took appropriate steps to bar Kinyua from campus after the alleged assault and have repeatedly noted that the killing happened far from the university.

Wiggins said he considered sending out an alert.

"Because he was apprehended in a rather rapid fashion, with the information we had at the time, we considered doing those things, but we did not because he was in custody," said Wiggins, who was recently promoted to the new post of campus chief public safety officer.

S. Daniel Carter, the campus safety advocate, said Morgan followed an established standard by not putting out a warning after Kinyua's alleged assault. "The general consensus in the field is that if a known suspect has been apprehended, the immediate threat has been mitigated," he said.

But he added that some campuses post or e-mail bulletins detailing significant crimes, even if the immediate threat is abated. Carter called that a "best practice."

In the Virginia Tech case, the university faced $55,000 in federal fines for failing to issue an alert when two students were found fatally shot in a residence hall, about two hours before the same shooter massacred 30 more. But a judge reversed those fines earlier this year, saying university police handled the situation reasonably.

Crime in surrounding neighborhoods is an aspect of campus safety largely unaddressed by Clery requirements but paramount to security officials at Baltimore colleges and universities. They're well aware that many students live in private residences and patronize businesses just a few blocks from campus. As a result, many campus police departments — including Morgan, Loyola and the University of Baltimore — have agreements to patrol such areas in tandem with city police.

Several, including Loyola and Hopkins, voluntarily post online reports about crime in the surrounding area, even if students and employees aren't directly involved.

"I consider that extremely important," said Skrodzki, whose department publishes a daily online account of incidents in the vicinity of Homewood.

At Loyola, police recently sent a campuswide email about a robbery at a McDonald's on York Road that is frequently patronized by students.

"We make a judgment call," Sawyer said. "The basic question is, 'If the students had this information, would it benefit them?'"

Others, such as Morgan State and the University of Maryland, Baltimore, choose not to post neighborhood crime reports, though the police chiefs at both said they send e-mail bulletins if there's a threat at an off-campus spot frequented by students.

Security officials try not to pelt students with too many alerts because they don't want them to seem routine and easy to ignore.

"We don't want to get into a position where people think we're crying wolf," said Samuel Tress, police chief at the University of Baltimore.

Tress' department of 34 officers patrols a stretch of 40 blocks centered around Charles Street and Mount Royal Avenue. He sends a sergeant to weekly meetings of Central District police commanders and posts summaries of neighborhood crimes on the university's website. "We're taking it a step further than Clery requires," Tress said.