OSU Police dumbing down crime statistics
By Mark Noble
Recently, WBNS 10TV (Columbus) reporter James Black reported that the Ohio State University has changed the way it reports campus crime statistics to track closer to the minimum standard set forth by the U.S. Department of Education.
From the story:
- Under new U.S. Department of Education guidelines, universities are no longer required to keep track of off-campus crime.
But is the new standard giving students a false sense of security?
"If you compare this most recent Clery Report with what we have filed in the past, it appears that crime is going down. And what I have said in the past is that may not necessarily be the case,” OSU Assistant Police Chief Rich Amweg said.
This might not seem like a big deal, but consider a parent or student using this report of a barometer of campus safety. The new reporting methods serve only to understate crime, and if the crime rate isn’t viewed as a problem then the campus community can brush away suggestions on improvements to the universities crime prevention strategies.
The OSU Police Department can’t even seem to decide which areas to report on. On page 11 of the latest OSU 2004 Crime Report, they refer to a map of the “immediate campus area” which includes campus, all of Columbus Police Department’s 4th Precinct and some of the 1st Precinct as well. Somehow, despite the massive chunk of the city illustrated in the map, the crime numbers are astoundingly low. Zero aggravated assaults, 11 robberies on campus, and 5 reported on “public property”. This looks pretty safe.
But looking back a few years shows a disturbing trend. There were 183 robberies on “public property” in 2003, and the year before that, 212. By the definition in the report, this represents incidents on or near roads that are immediately adjacent and accessible to campus. This is nearly a 98% decrease in robberies in just two years. A law enforcement strategy that effective surely deserves national attention!
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The Columbus Police Department (CPD) publishes incident reports on their website. The OSU campus is nestled in the middle of the 4th Precinct (4th Precinct is located in Zone 4). It is common to see at least five assaults per day, usually an armed robbery. Once a week we have a rape. Once a month there is an abduction.
When I discussed this problem with the Columbus Police Community Liaison Officer for the campus area at an event in September, he explained that crime was a serious problem but that students were bringing it upon themselves. He suggested that students should walk in groups, carry valuables with them to reduce burglaries, and to “watch their backs”.
I asked the officer if he was aware that a significant portion of the robberies in the campus area are perpetrated against groups of students. He acknowledged that was the case. Then I asked him if he thought students carrying more valuables was likely to discourage robbery. He seemed to consider that the boilerplate crime prevention advice was not likely to be effective.
The Ohio State Police have a similarly pessimistic approach toward campus area crime, their website states:
- “Your safety is our concern. It also must be your concern. As a university, we work very hard to prevent crime, fire, accidents and illness, but nothing we do is as important as what you do — and, in some cases, don't do.”
While I agree that there is little the police can do to protect a student who becomes intoxicated to the point of helplessness and walks alone down a dark alley, most of the violent crime in the community doesn’t follow that pattern and no level of student concern and care will reduce it.
In the short term, parents need to be sure that their students do not underestimate the dangers associated with the neighborhoods surrounding urban campuses statewide. The Police should develop a plan to respond quickly to reports of violent crime with a focus on the capture and apprehension of the criminals responsible.
As long as the tools of education (textbooks, laptops, cell phones, etc.) remain attractive targets to thieves we must consider ways that we can allow students to protect themselves from these violent predators. This should include insistence that universities provide realistic crime data and work with the city on aggressive violent offender policing strategies in the neighborhoods where student concentration is high. The community should also work to lift bans on lawful self defense in campus victim zones as a deterrent to criminals in the area and as a way to empower students to respond effectively when attacked.
Mark Noble is an OSU electrical-engineering student, a Buckeye Firearms Central Ohio volunteer, and maintains a blog detailing crime reports from the neighborhood surrounding the Ohio State University.