Students 'easy targets' while walking school grounds, university police say

By Kimberly Miller

Arizona Daily Wildcat

According to nationwide university statistics, violent crimes have risen on campuses, creating a false sense of security that some students feel could be very dangerous.

"Students on campus are such easy targets," said Detective Alicia Spalding from Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich., a University of Arizona sister school. "I think because they are on campus every day it becomes home to them and they let down their guard. When something is familiar they are less likely to be afraid."

A survey in The Chronicle of Higher Education of 796 colleges with populations over 5,000 found that reports of violent crimes have increased over the past few years. Aggravated assaults climbed 2.7 percent from 1992 to 1993, and robberies were up 2.2 percent. They reported a 34 percent increase in the number of arrests for violations of drug laws and an 11 percent rise in arrests for weapons violations.

Forcible sex offenses numbered 430 in 1993, up from 417 in 1992. However, colleges reported a decline in the numbers of burglaries, vehicle thefts and murders, which fell from 17 in 1992 to 15 in 1993.

The apparent increases in violent crimes on campuses is unusual because most studies show colleges have lower crime rates than their surrounding communities. And these increases came at a time when figures by the Federal Bureau of Investigation show a 1.5 percent dip in the number of violent crimes and a 3.4 percent drop in property crimes from 1992 to 1993.

Although crime statistics across the nation rose in 1993, the UA Police Department reported either a slight decrease or an insignificant increase in most violent crimes. The only large increase was in thefts, not including bicycles, and vehicle thefts.

The UA's sister schools, Michigan State and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, had similar 1993 statistics for robbery, car theft, violation of drug laws and weapons violations. Statistics for 1994 were not available.

Michigan State and North Carolina are considered the UA's sister schools because they have similar populations and size.

But the UA had many more reports of liquor violations 260 compared to Michigan State (156) and North Carolina (85).

UAPD Sgt. Brian Seastone said a reason for this may be the way the other universities handle liquor violations.

"Our higher numbers may be because of our enforcement," Seastone said. "We have adopted a zero tolerance and we really enforce it."

Another reason the UA's liquor violations were so high compared to the other universities is because, unlike the UA, neither Michigan State or North Carolina's police departments have jurisdiction over their fraternities and sororities, which are located off campus.

Spalding said their police department does not deal with liquor violations in the residence halls either.

"We have a very strict enforcement in the residence halls and they police in house," Spalding said. "They don't call the police unless it's really serious."

University of North Carolina Police Chief Elana Ennis said she does not put much faith in crime statistics. She said what gets reported and what actually happens can be very different depending on the relationship between a police department and campus community.

"Usually, changes reported are not statistically significant, especially on campuses," Ennis said. "Some police departments have a really good relationship with kids. Because of this they have faith in their police and will report most of what happens. So statistics go up for that school does that mean the police aren't doing a good job? No."

Seastone agreed with Ennis and said he thinks the majority of serious crimes are reported to the UAPD.

"Through the education done on campus and because we have a really tight-knit group here I think most crimes that occur on campus are reported," Seastone said.

Detective Salvatore Celi of the UAPD said the increase in vehicle thefts on campus in 1994 is a reflection of what's happening across the nation.

"Most of the car theft we see on campus happens during the day when people know students will be in class for a while," Celi said. "We see a lot of four-wheel-drive vehicles being stolen and we attribute that to them probably going across the border."

Ennis said she agreed that what goes on in the surrounding community usually affects campuses and she said North Carolina's arrests for drug violations usually increase when concerts come into town.

"Grateful Dead concerts always help to increase our statistics on drugs and alcohol," Ennis said.

Michigan State's numbers on burglary, 306, were considerably higher than the UA (144) and North Carolina (117).

Spalding said to combat those high numbers, her officers have started a program called "office watch," which operates like neighborhood watches.

"Our police department is really into community policing," Spalding said. "Some of our officers have gotten together with the people in the areas they patrol and started things like 'office watch.'"

She said most of the burglaries at Michigan State are out of offices and residence hall rooms left unlocked. She said this behavior all relates back to the attitude that university campuses are crime free.

"I don't think students consciously think about how their attitude changes when they come on campus," Spalding said. "They just act differently when they're off campus. More on their guard."

Seastone agreed that there are some students who obtain a false sense of security when they come onto campus.

"They're thinking like this is home," Seastone said. "You can't do that here. People lose the perspective that this is a city unto itself with its own crime problems."

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