Updated Inquiry Proposal: Crime Trends on College Campuses

This past week, I have thought about my inquiry project topic a bit, and I have decided to shift gears from writing about why people commit crimes in general to “Crime Trends on College Campuses.” I completed some research earlier this year for one of my criminal justice classes––Research Methods in Criminal Justice––on crime trends that are common in the VCU-downtown Richmond metro area. In the study, I utilized VCU Police Department crime statistics that covered a four-month period from November 2013 to February 2014. The crime report included every criminal incident that the VCU PD covered over that span, and it included important statistical categories, such as time of the crime, location/address, disposition (case closed, turned over to another agency, etc.), and a detailed breakdown of all charges involved. After finishing my analysis of the statistics, I produced a few charts and graphs that dissected and augmented the data in visible and easy-to-read ways so that the empirical data could be understood more easily.

VCU logo

So, what does this have to do with crime trends on college campuses? Well, for starters, there are numerous colleges and universities in the United States of America, all of which have their own distinct cultures and atmospheres that make them unique and attract thousands of students from everywhere. Even more distinct is the demographics and other categories that make up the respective schools’ student bodies. However, while a school’s students make an institution a school, so do the landscape and the buildings, many of which that usually become iconic symbols for schools’ images and are frequently used for marketing. Specifically, there are two major landscape types and/or environmental settings that are distinctly opposite in nature and essence––urban college campuses and rural college campuses.

Many would debate that a plethora of colleges are located in suburban areas, yet they claim to have roots in major cities or townships that are either strictly urban or rural. Why is this? Usually, the difference comes from the demographics of students who attend there, the students’ familial backgrounds (specifically their families’ political backgrounds), and the underlying political underpinnings of that area. Simply put, institutions that are located in large cities/urban areas tend to be more liberal in their approach, and subsequently their funding comes from progressive/Democratic donors. Conversely, colleges that are located in rural areas tend to be associated more with conservative/Republican donors. Furthermore, each respective environment’s governments also exemplify this distinct divergence as well. With that said, not all colleges and universities’ locations are indicative of the voting records of the surrounding population, but this generally is a reliable measuring stick. So, with all of this talk about political leanings and colleges, what does this have to do with crime rates on college campuses?

College Campus

There have been many studies conducted and theories formulated that attempt to explain why people commit crimes. The different theories, which all vary in nature, include interesting information into different facets of life and society that motivate individuals to embrace crime and to put their personal interests above the interests of others. According to Piquero and Tibbets (2002), people make choices that can have criminal implications based on risks and rewards (Rational Choice and Criminal Behavior). This is quite simple, when you think about it, but it really makes sense because we all have choices in life: risks or rewards? Whatever we choose, we will affect our lives and the lives of those who care about us the most if we decide to choose the rewards over the risks.

College life is different than regular life, however, and the choices that are made during college years can be paramount. That is, individuals’ choices can either them to success for the rest of their lives, or can damn them by imprisonment, death, or even worse––living with the consequences of mistakes that are irreversible. One crime in particular, rape, is an offense that occurs quite often on college campuses. Although there are many stories that the media reports from time to time, rapes on college campuses are the most prevalent college crime-related stories, in general. In their article, Social Disorganization Theory and the College Campus, Barton, Jensen, and Kauffman (2010) assert, “Offenders encounter targets they perceive to be suitable for victimization that lack capable guardianship.” I personally feel that, as convincing as this is, offenders also decide to prey on individuals who not only have incapable guardianship, but also those whom they feel they can overpower and/or take advantage of rather easily. Specifically, there are many factors that come into play that are associated with increased crimes on college campuses, such as:

  • The proportion of students applying for financial aid (Fox & Hellman, 1985);
  • The proportion of students attending full-time (Fox & Hellman, 1985)
  • School size (Bromley, 1994;Fernandez & Lizotte, 1997; Fox & Hellman, 1985; Sloan, 1994);
  • The proportion of male students (Fox & Hellman, 1985);
  • The proportion of students residing in dorms (Fernandez & Lizotte, 1997; Fox &Hellman, 1985; McPheters, 1978);
  • The amount of money spent on campus security (Bromley, 1994; McPheters, 1978)

All of these factors influence crime rates on college campuses and individually, they all impact the status of collegiate crimes differently.

hate crimes FBI report

During the 1980s and 1990s, crimes on college campuses were devastating institutions because the lack of reliable statistical crime data hindered police departments from having accurate knowledge about the state of crimes that occurred. In response, the Crime and Campus Security Act was passed in 1990 and another act, the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, was passed in 1998 to make campus crime data publicly accessible, according to Nobles, Fox, Khey, and Lizotte (2012). Furthermore, the authors clarify that the acts have faced much criticism because of “concerns about accuracy and reliability,” and because of the hierarchy rule, which means, “Only the most serious of a series of crimes by one offender is recorded.” One particular crime data source that uses similar methodology is the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), which is maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In the UCR, one will find that the FBI updates their crime statistics for many categories annually, but certain data categories are only recorded for jurisdictions within the United States that have populations of 100,000 or more.

One example of how the UCR data uses this methodology is how, for Crimes in the U.S. for 2013, the FBI only includes the cities of Alexandria, Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Richmond, and Virginia Beach, with all other cities/towns/counties in Virginia having less than 100,000 residents, per the 2010 census. While some agree that this methodology excludes many jurisdictions based on population, this actually makes classifying crimes by states easier and more uniformed. In fact, the UCR crime statistics indicate that all stat categories except for murder––including rape, robbery, and aggravated assault (all of which comprise violent crimes)––rose in the City of Richmond from 2012 to 2013. Given that Richmond as a whole is a jurisdiction by itself without the confines of a county, Virginia Commonwealth University is an institution that resides in the downtown metropolitan area of the city. Albeit, the crime statistics suggest that crimes in the city of Richmond are high, but many incidents go unreported, which comprise the dark figure of crime (almost 60% of crimes go unreported to the police for various reasons), as Christina Mancini (2014) suggests in her lecture, The Nature and Extent of Crime.All of the information that has been presented––factors that affect the propensity of college campus crimes, the Clery Act, UCR data and the FBI’s methodology, and the dark figure of crime––all contribute to the crime trends that exist on college campuses today. So, what can be done to lower crime rates, how can college police departments prevent future crimes from happening, and what further research can be done to further this study?

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As far as the project itself is concerned, I have decided to use Tumblr to launch my Inquiry Project. Because I feel that the possibility of creativity and innovation are endless and lie within the realms of the Internet, I feel that I will be able to bring a polished work to life that will educate, enlighten, and inspire any who read my final project. Honestly, I have not decided on all of the final details, but I believe that my argument is taking shape, and that the educating information that you just read will not just be a bunch of research. I think that the research that I have included (nuggets, quotes, etc.) will all add to my take on why crime rates on college campuses are so high, and why certain offenses are committed on certain campuses rather than others. Finally, I would love to include charts, graphs, pictures, and maybe even a video or two to aid my discussion and my argument.


1. Mancini, C. (June 2014). The Nature and Extent of Crime. Lecture retrieved from the Blackboard site for Professor Christina Mancini, Virginia Commonwealth University.