Sep 16, 2009

Campus Crime

A well-publicized tragedy on any college campus is bound to bring out the worst parent nightmares. The horrific murder of Annie Le, in a research lab on the campus of Yale University is no exception, especially as it seems to run counter to all the commonsense safety advice we offer students. She was working during the daylight hours in a secure area of the university. There was nothing to suggest that she took chances or was otherwise in danger. It should not have happened.

When touring campuses, parents often ask questions about security. They are routine, and tour guides are always prepared with answers detailing the locations of blue light call boxes or the availability of 24-hour security patrols. While this information is helpful, tour guides are almost never equipped to deal with more specific questions concerning the frequency of major campus crime such as assault or burglary. And parents sometimes want this information.

One important resource for parents or others interested in researching crime on specific college campuses was developed by the Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE), within the US Department of Education. The Campus Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool provides customized reports on instances of campus crime including murder, manslaughter, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, and arson. Data are drawn from the OPE Campus Security Statistics Website database to which information is annually submitted by all postsecondary institutions receiving federal aid.

For those interested in obtaining campus crime information, a number of different searches are available on the OPE site. Reports may be generated for a single campus or for a group of campuses. On campus criminal offenses are reliably reported with residence hall offenses a subset of those. Off campus data, although very relevant, is not provided. It’s important to note that the data reported represent “alleged” criminal offenses reported to campus authorities and/or local police agencies. Because some statistics are provided by non-police authorities, the information on the OPE site is not directly comparable to data from the FBI’s uniform crime reporting system.

While these statistics may be interesting to review, they cannot predict the future and don’t truly reflect the massive effort made by colleges and universities to keep students safe. They may, however, suggest the kinds of trends or improvements in campus security which parents find reassuring.

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