Colleges hiding on-campus crime stats?

By Andrew J. Pulskamp

Colleges and universities are not immune to the ills of the outside world. Crimes such as robbery, rape and even murder exist within the gates of the ivory tower. And when those crimes do occur, it's not always announced with a clarion call. Sometimes universities do their best to keep the darker side of academia under wraps, preventing students from getting the whole story.

Just last week, Elmarcko Jackson, a 21-year-old football player at Temple University, was stabbed in the chest and neck during a fight with a man near a university dormitory. While Jackson survived the attack, his plight is raising awareness at Temple about campus crimes.

Rahsaan Harrison is a senior at the university studying law and business, he says, "There wasn't really crime on campus before this that was anything big. When it did happen to Marko Jackson, people took notice. ...I think people are taking a little more precaution, looking out a little more and seeing who's out there."

"There wasn't really crime on campus before this that was anything big. ...I think people are taking a little more precaution, looking out a little more and seeing who's out there."

Temple University senior

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In 1997 a serial rapist was on the prowl, attacking female students on college campuses throughout the Midwest. With the turn of a doorknob, he was easily able to enter campus buildings surprising women who were working late at night in computer labs and music rooms. During the attack he would spit on his victims, interrogate them about their sex lives and finally, he would ask them to pray for him.

Vinson Horace Champ, a former "Star Search" contestant, was a comedian travelling the college circuit at the time -- he was arrested in connection with several of the attacks. In 1998 he was convicted of one of those rapes, at the University of Nebraska, and he is still a suspect in as many as a dozen attacks on college campuses in six states.

According to statistics compiled by the Department of Education, about 10,000 violent crimes take place every year at four and two-year colleges nationwide. In 1994 there were 20 murders, 1,300 forcible sex offenses, 3,100 robberies and 5,100 cases of aggravated assault.

The same survey reveals that about 40,000 property crimes occur at colleges and universities yearly. Most of those offenses are burglaries and motor vehicle thefts.

Crimes on U.S. Campuses*
Forcible Sex Offenses
Aggravated Assaults
Property Crimes (burglaries and car thefts)
*Source: Department of Education (1994 stats)
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Myra Kodner is the program coordinator for Security on Campus Inc., a nonprofit national organization that deals with the prevention of college and university campus violence and other crimes. Kodner, who believes that students can't fully escape the realities of crime while away at school, says, "Colleges are a microcosm of society. It's unfortunate, but it's reality."

The very organization she works for was formed by Howard and Connie Clery after their daughter was raped, beaten and murdered by another student in her dorm room at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania in 1986.

Kodner feels school safety records should be an important consideration during a student's application process. "You want to get a copy of campus crime statistics," she advises. "And by law, the universities have to give those to you. You can also call local hospitals and find out about the number of students treated for alcohol poisoning, drug overdoses or sexual assaults."

The problem is, universities aren't always up front about the crimes that occur on their grounds. Kodner strongly suggests a visit to the campus for a firsthand look at the place. She says there are important questions to ask. "Look at the campus. You can't judge it just by its geographic location. Notice things like the landscaping. Is there a lot of shrubbery and how is the place lit? Is there somewhere for a stalker or assailant to hide? At the dorms -- do you need a key card? Is there someone at a desk, or can just anybody walk in?"

Harrison says campus crime wasn't high on his list of concerns when he applied to Temple. "I didn't even give it consideration," he says.

But many do give it consideration. The Chronicle of Higher Education evidently views the topic relevant enough to compile their very own campus crime statistics annually. The survey is based on reports submitted by 483 four-year colleges and universities with more than 5,000 students. The survey does not break down the number of sexual assaults and murders campus by campus, but it does address weapon, alcohol and drug violations that way.

"Look at the campus. You can't judge it just by its geographic location. Notice things like the landscaping. Is there a lot of shrubbery and how is the place lit? Is there somewhere for a stalker or assailant to hide?"

program coordinator for Security on Campus Inc.

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In 1997, Arizona State University had more weapons arrest than any other college in the country with 32. Michigan State University was a close second with 31, also reporting more alcohol arrests than any other school in the survey with 633.

When it came to drug arrests, the University of California at Berkeley led the way with 179. The University of Arizona followed with 142, and Arizona State University was third with 127.

But do statistics tell the whole story? Not all individuals arrested on campuses are students. And just because there's a large number of arrests at a particular university, that doesn't necessarily indicate high crime. It could point to stricter enforcement.

Stewart Adams works with the Arizona State University police department as the crime prevention coordinator. He argues that there are a number of reasons for the glut of arrests at ASU. "For the drug arrests, [the high volume] is due to the enforcement of our zero tolerance policy," he says.

Adams also contends that there is another factor that mushrooms the school's arrest numbers. It is directly related to football games. The school's stadium isn't just home to the ASU Sun Devils, it's also the home field for an NFL franchise -- the Phoenix Cardinals. Adams explains, "Our football games definitely have an impact, as well as the pro games. And that's where we have most alcohol arrests and anything else that comes along with a game."

Crime on Campus
Highest number of arrests on U.S. campuses*
Arizona State University:
32 weapons-related
Michigan State University:
633 alcohol-related
University of California, Berkeley:
179 drug-related

*Source: Chronicle of Higher Education (1997 statistics).
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In fact many of the schools high on the arrest list have Division I football programs that bring in a lot of fans to the campus on the weekends. The ensuing partying can definitely spike arrest numbers considerably.

And that's not the only reason statistics could be misleading. Despite the fact that colleges are required by the 1990 Student-Right-to-Know Campus Security Act to disclose their crime statistics to the public, not all universities necessarily comply with the legislation. A 1997 General Accounting Office report says "colleges are having difficulty complying with the act," then it says the Department of Education has only recently begun to systematically monitor compliance.

But just because some schools may not be telling the whole story when it comes to crime on campus, that doesn't mean students can't find that information themselves. Sometimes it takes a common sense approach to figure out just what kind of environment a campus offers.

Kodner advises, "When you're looking at a campus, go see where frat row is. See what it looks like on a Friday or Saturday night and ask yourself if you would want to live next door to this."