Washington Watch: Safety at Educational Institutions

Washington Watch is written by AACC’s government relations office.

At a time when our foremost thoughts of safety turn to our health and staying COVID-19 free, safety also concerns physical well-being and attending crime-free educational institutions. A joint publication of the U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Justice released earlier this month provides updated information on 22 indicators of school crime and safety. This is the 22nd edition of the report covering data between 2016 and 2019 for 20 indicators related to K-12 schools and two for postsecondary institutions. 

Incidents of Reported Person, Property and Hate Crimes 

All Title IV eligible postsecondary institutions have been required to report criminal incidents since 1990, when the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, known as the Clery Act, was enacted. In a 2008 amendment to the Clery Act, a reporting requirement was added of incidents of hate crimes. There are three categories of criminal offenses on campus, those that are reported, arrests, as well as referrals for disciplinary action. The 2019 Indicators report acknowledges that “due to underreporting, figures for reported offenses, arrests, and disciplinary referrals likely do not capture all incidents that actually occurred.” 

According to the report, in 2017, across all higher education institutions there was an increase of about 500 incidents of crimes against persons and property that were reported to police or security agencies, up from 28,400 in 2016. This represented a two percent increase in the crimes reported per 10,000 Full-time Equivalent (FTE) students, from 19.3 in 2016 to 19.6 in 2017. In 2017, two types of criminal incidents made up about three fourths of all reported offenses— burglaries (38 percent) and forcible sexual crimes (36 percent). Other prevalent offenses included motor vehicle theft (12 percent), aggravated assault (8 percent), and robberies (3 percent). 

The incidence of reported hate crimes is much lower than other offenses, 958 in 2017. The most common motivating bias were racial (43 percent), religious (18 percent), and sexual orientation (16 percent). The most prominent manifestations of reported hate crimes were vandalism and other forms of property destruction (46 percent), intimidation (40 percent), and simple assault (9 percent).

Campuses Generally Safer Now than a Decade Ago 

The 2017 figures mask the overall trend between 2001 and 2017, during which there were three distinct periods, with a peak of 44,500 in 2006. Between 2001 and 2006, there was an increase of 7 percent in reported offenses, followed by a precipitous decline of 40 percent between 2006 and 2014, and an increase of 8 percent between 2014 and 2017. 

The largest decline in reported crimes occurred in public 2-year institutions, down by more than half from the 2006 peak year, 2643 compared to 5669. Four-year institutions also experienced declines in reported crimes but at a smaller rate, down by 28 percent at public 4-year and 34 percent at private nonprofit 4-year institutions. In 2006, criminal incidents that were reported at public 2-year institutions represented 13 percent of total incidents, whereas in 2017 that dropped to nine percent.

Using the crimes reported per 10,000 FTE measure, the number of reported on-campus crimes declined from 35.5 to 20.4 for public 4-year institutions, from 57.7 to 32.1 for nonprofit 4-year institutions, and from 15.4 to 8.2 for public 2-year institutions.

In 2017, more than half of all the reported crimes occurred in residence halls.  For academic year 2015-16, ED data show that only 1.5 percent of community college students lived in residence halls on-campus, compared to almost 30 percent of public 4-year students and 43 percent of private non-profit 4-year students.

Troubling Rise in Sexual Offenses

A very serious and troubling exception to a decline in incidents involves forcible sexual offenses. This category increased from 1.9 per 10,000 students in 2001 to 7.1 in 2017.  According to the report, the increase in overall incidents since 2014 “was driven primarily by the increase in the number of reported forcible sex offenses.” In 2017, more than 10,000 forcible sex offense incidents were reported.  The previous year the number was around 8,900 and 2,200 in 2001. The percent increase in reported forcible sexual offenses, which included rape as well as fondling, was comparable across higher education sectors. What is not stated in the text is that in 2017, public 2-year institutions represented 5.5 percent of all reports of forcible sexual offenses, compared to 50.5 percent at public 4-year and 43 percent at private non-profit 4-year institutions. These incidents most likely occurred in residence halls 72 percent overall, 84 percent and 88 percent at public 4-year and private non-profit institutions, respectively. In comparison, 209 of the 575 forcible sex offenses, or 36 percent, occurred in residence halls.

Fewer Alcohol and Gun-Possession Arrests 

In compliance with the Clery Act, institutions must also report arrests and referrals to disciplinary action for illegal weapons possession and drug and liquor law violations. From the peak of about 54,000 total arrests in 2011 for gun, drug or alcohol violations, the number declined to 37,600 arrests in 2017. The arrest pattern was not the same for all three types of violations, however. Arrests for liquor law violations experienced the largest decrease, from 23.5 per 10,000 FTE students in 2001 to 11.4 in 2017. The decrease in arrests of weapons possession offenses was not as pronounced from 0.9 per 10,000 students in 2001 to 0.8 in 2017. Only arrests for drug law violations increased from 10.2 per 10,000 FTE student in 2001 to 13.3 in 2017. 

Two items to note: first, this report does not identify if any of the incidents fall under Title IX regulations. Future reports, which may cover the shutdown of campuses starting in March 2020 will no doubt have an impact on reported incidents, particularly those occurring in residence halls.  

For more information, contact Jolanta (J.J.) Juszkiewicz, director of policy analysis at jjuszkiewicz@aacc.nche.edu.

About the Author

Jolanta Juszkiewicz
is director of policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.