U works to fight crime on campus

Matthew Gruchow

University officials said they are taking measures to combat crime on campus, while a national report urges the nation’s colleges to do more to confront the issue.

The report, “Campus Violence White Paper,” is a collection of survey and study data on campus crime gathered by the American College Health Association and was published this month.

Although the report states that overall violent crime against college students declined 54 percent, it offers a litany of suggestions to combat crime.

According to the report, alcohol use and a sports culture that promotes aggression, competition and “male privilege” were two of many underlying causes for campus crime.

“The locker room is a breeding ground for male aggression and the denigration of women,” said one study quoted in the report.

Lori-Anne Williams, University Services communications director, said campus security is in good shape.

“I think in a lot of ways we’re ahead of the game, and in other areas, we need to improve,” Williams said.

Greg Hestness, University police chief and assistant vice president for the Department of Public Safety, said crime at the University remains low, with theft being the biggest challenge for police.

But current police staffing levels hinder the department’s ability to do more crime-prevention work, Hestness said.

“It’s sort of a tipping point. We’re staffed to handle the 911 responses,” he said. “It’s a challenge to do the extra directed patrol things we’d like to do.”

The department has several programs it would like to offer, including more crime education for students and faculty members, he said.

Giving more attention to improving relationships with students is also a department goal, he said.

All these programs, however, would pull officers from street patrols, Hestness said.

“We’d like to do more education in the dorms, with faculty groups and such,” Hestness said. “It’s a matter of running thin on the streets, and we can’t run much thinner than we already do, or paying overtime.”

The University has increased the number of security cameras on campus and will continue educating students on crime prevention and crime reporting, Williams said.

“I always want students to know that we care about their safety,” she said. “People live here, this is their home and we want to make it safe.”

A universitywide approach

Every campus culture is different, and students should play an active role in forming policies and procedures affecting them, said Joetta Carr, a psychologist for Western Michigan University and the report’s author.

“Some campuses are far along in some areas and maybe not in others, and that’s why I think it’s very important to have the students involved, because they know what’s really going on,” Carr said.

Universities must make a holistic effort to tackle the issue, involving every department from campus counselors, to administration, to police, she said.

“We need to – at the highest level of the campus administration – embrace this topic and put the power of the administration, including the president, behind doing something about campus violence,” she said. “It has to come from the top, and it has to include all the necessary players.”

The report lays out several suggestions for improving campus safety.

Of those suggestions, Carr said, she would most like to see universities develop institutionwide responses to hate crimes, tackle alcohol use and improve the handling of rape cases by creating rape crisis centers with staff members trained to deal with sexual crimes, she said.

“I think, in the past, there’s been a lot of mishandling of these rape cases by a lot of well-meaning people, like campus security or whatever, and so young women kind of get the word on the street that it really doesn’t help to report them,” Carr said.

Reporting campus crime

College crime statistics are flawed because of significant underreporting by victims, according to the report.

“If you’re in the trenches like I am and counseling students that have been assaulted, you know there’s a huge underreporting problem here,” Carr said. “What we get reported is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Main reasons for students not reporting crimes included considering the crime a minor offense or a private matter and being unsure if an incident was a crime, the report stated.