Toward a Safer Campus
The ivory tower is more secure than ever, but more safeguards may still be needed
Perhaps not surprisingly, the biggest criminal risk on campus results from abuse of alcohol. Alcohol-related injuries led to more than 1,700 deaths on campus in 2001. In the same year, 97,000 students were victims of alcohol-related rape or sexual assaults, and 696,000 were assaulted by a student who had been binge drinking, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
More than any other crime, sexual assault is the most troubling on campus. Reporting rates for these crimes are notoriously low, with some estimates suggesting that fewer than 5 percent of assaults are reported. Even so, federal statistics suggest students reported more than 2,600 forcible sexual offenses in 2004. A 2000 report based on survey data found a victimization rate of 27.7 rapes per 1,000 female students.
Taking up arms. The prevalence of such crimes, along with calls for better emergency management after 9/11, has prompted campuses to become even safer yet. Police forces have become far more professional than they once were, says Adam Garcia, chair of the University and College Section of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. "In the past 10 years, we've consciously moved away from the security guard mentality towards a law enforcement mentality," he says. In fact, many states-including Virginia-now require that campus officers receive the same training, and sometimes the same certifications, as rank-and-file police officers.
The worst emergencies that campus cops train for are "active shooter scenarios"-nightmares of the sort played out at Columbine and Virginia Tech. And the response to such incidents is changing. "Traditionally, the tactics in these situations involved containing the shooter and waiting for the SWAT team to show up," says Gene Burton, director of public safety at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. "That's not the case anymore. Now, in many cases, the situation can become more dangerous if it's not resolved quickly."
Illustrating this shift are the tools that have now become standard issue for campus police: bomb- and drug-sniffing dogs, stun guns, bulletproof vests, and pepper spray. And at some schools, select officers receive advanced weapons training. That's quite a departure from years past. "Fifty years ago it was the campus cop patrolling the quadrangle at 2 a.m. and calling home a few drunken students," says Ann Franke, a college security consultant.
Other schools have taken a different approach. In 1991, Gang Lu, a disgruntled graduate student at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, went on a shooting spree that killed three professors, one administrator, and a fellow student. The school had to call in the local police because their officers carried no weapons.
The UI police now carry stun guns, but they don't carry firearms and must return to headquarters to arm themselves before responding to a potentially deadly incident. It's a policy the head of campus security wants changed. "You never want to get into a situation where you're sending your trained policemen into emergency situations unable to defend themselves," says Charles Green, head of public safety at UI.