Campus crime increases, causing concern for some parents despite experts reassurances

The count of crimes reported by university campuses has gone back to pre-pandemic levels in 2022, as per government data.

Incidents reported from about 6,000 institutions surged by approximately 8% since 2019, despite a drop in enrollments during that period. The rise in offenses between 2019 and 2022 coincided with the return of students en masse to campuses post-pandemic. This recent increase is the largest spike post-2019 compared to year-over-year changes before that, when institutions receiving federal funding began reporting campus safety statistics.

Explore our Crimes on Campus tool for an in-depth analysis of reported crimes from over 10,000 college and university campuses.

Experts remain calm, stating that the numbers align with what colleges have witnessed since 2013, according to S. Daniel Carter, president of the consulting firm Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses.

Following a consistent decline since around 2006, crime reports from colleges and universities remained largely unchanged over the past decade. When foot traffic reduced due to online classes during the pandemic, crime dropped significantly in 2020, but in the subsequent years, it has inched up once more.

The recent upsurge primarily resulted from a surge in motor vehicle theft, which more than doubled from 2019 and accounted for over a quarter of offenses in 2022. Carter expressed doubt about this spike, suggesting it could be attributed to schools altering their reporting requirements to comply with federal law.

“Efforts have been made to raise awareness that scooters and golf carts are considered motor vehicles – that might be a contributing factor,” he said.

Government data for 2023 is not yet accessible, so the current numbers do not reflect the disturbances on college campuses following the Israel-Hamas conflict. Recent surveys indicate that many Muslim and Jewish students felt unsafe on campuses post the October 7 attacks, leading to substantial campus conflicts, protests, and spikes in Islamophobic and antisemitic incidents.

The reported figures from 2022 encompass offenses on and off campus, including on university properties elsewhere, offenses on public property adjacent to campuses, and a few offenses reported to institutions by local police.

California parents employ external security firm for campus surveillance

The rise in campus crimes post-pandemic has attracted the concern of some parents, including a group at the University of California, Berkeley, which collected over $40,000 to hire a private security force – much to the disapproval of campus administrators.

Half a dozen unarmed guards patrolled the campus in March for over two weeks, as mentioned by Sagar Jethani, a father of two Berkeley sophomores engaged in the initiative.

A month after Jethani took his kids for their freshman year in October 2022, there was a deadly shooting near their dorm.

“This was a real eye-opener,” he informed USA TODAY.

He and other parents were concerned about the increasing crime rate in Berkeley city. Another shooting in February also worried some parents. No one was harmed, and reportedly, a suspect was apprehended.

A privately hired security guard patrols the campus outside a dorm at the University of California, Berkeley, earlier this year.

Employing private security officers did not please Berkeley administrators. Janet Gilmore, a spokesperson, stated to USA TODAY that funds aimed at ensuring the safety of Berkeley students would be best utilized in support of the school’s police force.

“Hiring private security raises several concerns, including the training and experience of individuals employed by such firms,” Gilmore mentioned.

Renewed initiatives to prompt students to report crimes

Colleges and universities that receive federal funding are obligated to compile data on crimes occurring on or near campus under the Clery Act. This federal law, passed in 1990, was named after Jeanne Clery, a 20-year-old student whose rape and murder at her Lehigh University dorm drew national attention.

The challenge universities face in attempting to encourage crime reporting while keeping numbers down was evident in a recent scandal at Liberty University, a private Evangelical institution in Virginia.

Last year, the federal government concluded that the school fostered an environment discouraging sexual assault victims from reporting these incidents, as per a preliminary report obtained by USA TODAY. Subsequently, in March, the Education Department fined the school $14 million and directed officials to allocate an additional $2 million for “on-campus safety enhancements and compliance upgrades.” In a statement in March, Dondi E. Costin, Liberty’s president, expressed sincere regret for the mistakes.

The scandal showcased the repercussions of schools not fully adhering to the law, stated Abigail Boyer, the associate executive director of the Clery Center, which monitors campus safety trends.

“Ultimately, our goal is for campuses to foster an environment where students feel comfortable reporting incidents,” she commented.

Hundreds gathered for a vigil on Nov. 14, 2022, after a shooting at the University of Virginia killed three people and injured two.

Clery Act figures are self-reported, and the Department of Education does not independently verify them. However, the agency conducts intermittent reviews of Clery Act compliance. Over the past 15 years, the agency has assessed at least 110 universities, many of which resulted in fines.

Can the surge in stolen scooters and e-bikes explain the apparent crime increase?

The Clery Act mandates schools to report “motor vehicle thefts,” encompassing scooters, electric bicycles, and golf carts, not restricted to just cars.

Some schools mentioned that the surge in crimes on or near their campuses in 2022 could be due to their modified reporting of scooter, electric bike, and golf cart thefts. In 2022, Grand Canyon University in Arizona began categorizing thefts of skateboards, scooters, and bikes under “motor vehicle theft.”

Spokesperson Bob Romantic noted that the bulk of the school’s extra criminal offenses in 2022 resulted from that alteration.

“Additionally,” he mentioned, “we observed slight increases in other offenses due primarily to the rapid expansion of our campus population, increased crime in the Phoenix vicinity, and the aftermath of the pandemic.”

David Kelly, representative for the University of Colorado, Denver-Anschutz Medical, stated that the school has implemented measures to combat the surge in motor vehicle thefts by installing more surveillance cameras and deploying officers to monitor parking areas and garages.

It is also likely that there is an increase in these vehicles on campuses, as per Bethanie Glover, a spokesperson for the University of Virginia.

“The prevalence of motor scooters both on campus and nationwide has significantly increased, accompanied by a rise in theft reports,” she remarked.

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