Study finds crime rise at UM

38 violent crimes were reported on campus in 2005, FBI says

September 23, 2006|By Greg Garland and Rona Marech | Greg Garland and Rona Marech,sun reporters

More violent crimes were reported at the University of Maryland, College Park last year than at most other campuses in the country, an annual FBI report shows.

The report says 38 violent crimes were reported to UM campus police in 2005. That's more than the number reported at all but two other campuses among the 545 colleges that filed crime statistics with the FBI.

The report detailed violent crimes on the UM campus as 18 robberies, double the number in 2004; 18 assaults, five more than the previous year; and two rapes, one less than in 2004.

FBI officials say many factors influence crime on college campuses, and they caution against using the data to compare schools. The report also doesn't give a complete picture because it covers only crimes that occur on campus.

Two of the most high-profile crimes at UM in recent years -- a student fatally stabbed at a party in 2002 and another killed in an arson fire last year -- would not be included in the data because they happened in off-campus housing.

University officials say they have taken steps to address the college's crime problems, including adding six officers to the 94-member campus force this year, installing more security cameras and increasing lighting around the school outside Washington.

"Most of those arrested are not affiliated with the campus, probably 90 percent," said Maj. Cathy Atwell, a spokeswoman for UM's Department of Public Safety. "Most of the victims are students."

Yesterday, many of the students relaxing on a warm afternoon said the sprawling campus usually does not seem dangerous.

"I feel totally safe ... even though I'm out sometimes relatively late," said Maihani Clarke, an 18-year-old freshman from Seat Pleasant. "There are always police riding around, and I'm always with someone. And even if I'm by myself, there are always people around."

Those who say they feel safe on campus talk about high security in their dormitories and a university service that provides free late-night rides. It's inevitable, some students said, that there would be some crime on a campus near a major metropolitan area that is riddled with pockets where crime is rampant. But the campus is protected from much of that -- and students simply have to take precautions, they said.

"I don't feel any more unsafe than I would in any other urbanized area," said Bob Smith, an entomology graduate student who lives in Bowie but is sometimes on campus at night. "I don't look at this as any high-crime kind of deal."

Not everyone is so sanguine. Some say they've had bikes stolen or heard of other petty crimes, and stories are always swirling about stabbings or other incidents at off-campus parties or bars. People who are not students sometimes come to campus parties and create trouble, and the e-mails the university sends out about crimes on campus make some students very wary. They carry cell phones or walk with friends after dark but still feel uneasy.

"During the day, I never feel like anything would happen," said Michelle Lambert, 20, a junior. "But at night, everything changes. The rules completely change for what you can and can't do."

Lambert said she recently was walking along Route 1 to visit a friend and realized, when she got off her cell phone, that someone was following her. He grabbed her, but she elbowed him in the face and ran. She never reported the incident.

"I know a lot of girls who have had something like that happen to them," she said. She complained that the campus shuttles often don't come on time at night and the night-ride program won't make pick-ups at some close but off-campus locations.

The only two colleges to report higher violent crime numbers to the FBI were the New Jersey University of Medicine and Dentistry in Newark and Arizona State University in Phoenix, which reported 58 and 39, respectively. The New Jersey school is much smaller than UM; the Arizona college has a larger enrollment.

The FBI's report lists only those universities that have a campus police force made up of fully sworn law enforcement officers. The report details crimes that occur on campus and that are reported to campus police. Some universities rely on local police to handle crimes on campus and are not included; others restrict their campus police to dealing only with property crimes such as burglary or theft.

The totals don't give a true picture of whether one college campus is safer than another, FBI officials say.

Violent crime at some smaller colleges in Maryland is much higher than UM -- which has a student enrollment of 35,000 -- when examined on a per-capita basis, the FBI report shows. Coppin State University, with 3,875 students, reported 12 violent crimes last year. Morgan State University, with an enrollment of 6,891, reported 15.

Maryvictoria Pyne, a spokeswoman for the FBI division that gathers crime data, said that where a university is located, demographics of the local population and other factors all contribute to crime on college campuses.

Atwell, the UM spokeswoman, noted that Maryland's flagship university spreads out over two square miles, is 10 miles outside of the District of Columbia and is near high-crime areas.

"Our numbers reflect what is going on in our surrounding area," she said.

S. Daniel Carter of Security on Campus, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit group that monitors campus crime, said more of it occurs off a campus than on it.

"There's more opportunity for crimes off-campus than on-[campus], if you look at the narrow window of time that students, even those who live there, spend on campus," he said.

Carter pointed to a 2005 Department of Justice report, "Violent Victimization of College Students, 1995-2002," that found that 93 percent of violent crimes against college students occurred off-campus.

He said that colleges have made great strides in the past two decades improving on-campus security.

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