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Crime Creeping Higher on Campuses

Crime Creeping Higher on Campuses
Hate crimes are down, but federal reports may not be the best indicator.
By Charles Dervarics

On-campus arrests for alcohol violations are up significantly nationwide, but hate crimes — including those predicated on race — are declining, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Education.

The number of students arrested for alcohol offenses on campus increased by 10 percent from 2003 to 2004, rising to more than 34,000, federal reports show. Colleges must report this data annually under the Clery Act, a federal law that requires crime reporting in specific categories.

Less-serious alcohol citations — incidents that fall short of arrest — also have increased steadily since 2002. Colleges reported 176,929 such violations in 2004, up 12,000 from the previous year and an increase of 28,000 since 2002, the department reports show.

Under the Clery Act, colleges have the flexibility to report lesser alcohol offenses in a separate category. In most cases, such citations are issued by campus security officers or other officials, and the citations usually bring internal disciplinary action within the college or university.

Safety advocates say the increases likely reflect increased enforcement by higher education institutions rather than a worsening of campus alcohol problems.

“We’ve been seeing this trend for some time,” says Catherine Bath, executive director of Security on Campus, a Pennsylvania-based organization that promotes campus safety and tougher enforcement measures.

“I think campuses are getting tired of the drinking,” she says, adding that many institutions are trying to change the culture on campus. “Universities want to be known as fine institutions of higher learning and not as drinking clubs.”

The increases in arrests and citations follow several high-profile reports about binge drinking on college campuses. In 2002, Harvard University’s College Alcohol Study concluded that 44 percent of college students were binge drinkers, or students who may consume five or more drinks at a single sitting.

However, other Harvard research shows that Black, Asian and female students generally have lower binge drinking rates compared with Whites and males. More diverse campuses also tend to have lower binge drinking rates, the university says.

In 2004, most on-campus arrests for alcohol occurred at public, four-year campuses. However, arrests at private institutions increased by 20 percent, double the rate of increase at public colleges.

The federal data show a significant decline in the number of hate crime incidents from 2002 to 2004. Nationwide, colleges reported only 20 aggravated assault hate crimes in 2004, compared with 168 in 2002, based on the federal data. The number of forcible sex offenses classified as hate crimes dropped from 56 to zero in the two-year period, while other hate crimes resulting in bodily injury dropped from 27 to 19.

Some experts were unsure of how to assess this trend. “The Clery Act is not necessarily a good indicator [of hate crimes] for a number of reasons,” says S. Daniel Carter, Security on Campus’ senior vice president.

For example, while colleges must collect detailed information on any hate crime involving violence, the Clery Act does not require colleges to report vandalism or graffiti that may constitute a large share of bias-related incidents.

The government “severely undercounts hate crimes,” says Heidi Beirich, a spokesperson for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Education Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation data generally come from local police departments or agencies, where some officers “may not report [hate crimes] or they mislabel them,” she says, adding that a more accurate measure may be the National Crime Victimization Survey. The survey, which is also a government research project, polls U.S. households to determine whether individuals have been victims of crime. Based on that standard, Americans report about 210,000 hate crimes per year, of which less than half — or 92,000 — are reported to police.

A November 2005 report on this survey by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics also indicate crime victims and police may perceive the issue differently. Among the approximately 210,000 annual incidents cited in that study, victims said that police confirmed only 8 percent of the crimes as hate related.

While this data do not include a breakdown of incidents on
college campuses, Beirich says there is likely to be undercounting in campus hate crime data. “You get many crimes that simply are not reported.”

Arrests for possession of illegal weapons on campus increased by 14 percent in 2004, the data show. Two- and four-year colleges experienced similar rates of increase, although a majority of the weapon incidents occurred at four-year public colleges and universities.

Of the 1,354 arrests for illegal weapons possession in 2004, more than 300 occurred in student residence halls, the department reports.

On-campus drug arrests increased by 3 percent in 2004 compared with the previous year and were up by 6 percent since 2002. Both two- and four-year institutions experienced increases. Nearly half of these on-campus arrests took place in residence halls.

The Education Department bases its data on reports submitted by 6,730 two- and four-year colleges and universities.

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