Crimes Rise Across America’s Campuses

by David Burnett on June 22, 2010

In 2002, the Secret Service released a report on school shootings in the United States. The project, part of their Safe School Initiative, studied 37 incidents in 28 years, and among their key findings, noted that: “incidents of targeted violence at school rarely are sudden, impulsive acts” – that is, even killers didn’t “just snap” – and that only some of the shootings were preventable. (Click here to read the Secret Service report.)

Sadly, in the eight years since the Safe School Initiative was released, America witnessed multiple campus shootings at places such as Virginia Tech, prompting Campus Attacks: Targeted Violence Affecting Institutions of Higher Education, another more comprehensive report on crime, violence and shootings specifically on college campuses. The FBI, Secret Service and Department of Education each contributed to the report.

The study included all forms of targeted violence that occurred on a campus between January 1, 1900 and December 31, 2008. In 108 years of data, the project studied 272 documented incidents of targeted violence on campus. These incidents added up to 281 deaths and 247 injuries. (By necessity, the study did not account for any unreported crimes. Also excluded are crimes that occurred after December 31, 2008 – such as the University of Alabama-Huntsville shooting.)

How did college crimes compare with K-12 schools when it comes to preventing these attacks? According to the report, any way you slice it, it’s harder beast to contend with.

“[College] campuses usually comprise many buildings, often with larger classrooms, separate faculty for each department, more uncontrolled access and egress, and irregular student schedules that minimize regular contact between educators and students,” the report states. “These factors are less conducive to observing and recognizing behavioral concerns among the student population.”

In other words, multiple factors on a college environment make these crimes even less preventable. In fact, the report states that there were warning signs or “concerning behaviors” present in only 31 percent of the cases. That means that a sturdy 69 percent of attackers don’t exhibit detectable signs or behaviors – which are already harder to notice on campus.

Maybe that’s why college campuses across the nation saw 3,287 rapes, 60 killings, 5,026 assaults and 4,562 robberies just in 2008.

One of the most disturbing trends is the dramatic rise in crimes in recent decades. The survey spanned 108 years, yet 60 percent of incidents were recorded within the past 20 years. The number of documented incidents has risen every decade since 1900.

One factor may be rising college enrollment, but clearly a collegiate population influx carries worse pitfalls than just crowded dormitories.

The report includes many other illuminating facts about campus violence:

  • 79 percent of attacks occurred on the college campus grounds – 28% in dorms, 27% in parking lots or college grounds, and 26% in actual buildings. Over half of these attacks occurred in classrooms, dorms or offices – areas often assumed to be safe because of location or activity.
  • 26 percent of attackers committed suicide after their attack. (This means a quarter of them had a death wish to begin with, but more importantly, three-quarters of attackers had a will to live which could presumably be used to halt attacks.)
  • Attackers’ ages ranged between 16 and 68, but only 8 percent of attackers had any kind of criminal history.
  • 21 percent of the attacks or killings were random. In other words, you don’t have to be on the outs with someone to be find yourself at risk…your only crime could be standing nearby. And by the way, after all of this research, experts still have no idea why random targets are selected.
  • Guns were only used in attacks 54 percent of the time.
  • Females are disproportionately at risk, because a majority of college patrons (57% of students and 54% of faculty) are female.

Notably, the most recent FBI violent crime statistics show violent crime across the United States has declined, even as firearm ownership and concealed carry permits are reaching record highs.

Gun-free zones on college campuses force law-abiding citizens into a position of weakness. By insisting that no legally-armed student, professor or employee carry a concealed firearm for protection on campus, colleges are stacking the odds in favor of the violent perpetrators and assuring no citizen has the ability to resist.

Critics often claim college campuses are too dangerous to allow lawfully-armed citizens to be armed for their own protection. The research shows colleges are too dangerous not to.


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