How Safe are Central Mass Colleges?
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Just days after a Worcester Polytechnic Institute student was accused of alleged rape, GoLocalWorcester has examined the state of violent crime and burglary at area colleges. Crime is a dark reality, even at the most reputable universities. GoLocalWorcester researched the 10 biggest colleges in Central Massachusetts and uncovered which campus is the most dangerous. Data was collected from the 3 most recent years as documented by U.S. Department of Education, and analyzed in accordance with reported crimes and population size at each school.
Violent crimes comprised of forcible sex offenses and aggravated assaults varied among colleges across Central Massachusetts. College of the Holy Cross came in with the highest ratio of reported forcible sexual offenses (11 over 3 years).
Nichols College had the highest ratio of aggravated assault reports, with 13 incidents over 3 years. Aggravated assault is legally defined as an attempt to cause serious bodily injury to another, knowingly, with or without a weapon. These incidents are typically punished more severely than simple assaults. Becker College and Assumption College ranked 2nd and 3rd, respectively.
Violent crimes are not the only cause of concern for college students and faculty. Reports of burglary at different colleges were high in the region, and at some surprising institutions. Of the 10 schools examined, Anna Maria College had the highest ratio of burglaries, with 34 reports over 3 years.
Anna Maria College reported very few violent crimes, forcible sexual offense, and aggravated assaults, but theft is a common problem.
“I could tell you, the most common thing stolen is a cell phone. We have maybe 3 or 4 laptops taken a year. Now that’s 3 or 4 too many, but it’s the Ipods and the cell phones,” said Anna Maria Dean of Students Andrew Klein.
Klein said that the challenge for school faculty is generally simply getting students to lock their dorm room doors and secure their valuables. “It’s a crime of opportunity. We all face it,” he said.
In terms of motor vehicle theft, Clark University reported 5 cases of motor vehicle theft on campus over a 3 year period. Worcester State University, Fitchburg State University, and Holy Cross were the only other schools that reported motor vehicle theft on campus.
Minimizing crime and reporting accurately
Overall, the consensus of Central Massachusetts colleges is that the best way to minimize campus crime is through early education and prevention.
“We spend a lot of time at Orientation on those issues, a lot of success comes from conversations with students, on holding each other accountable and looking out for each other,” said Klein.
Colleges like Worcester State and Holy Cross have 24-hour security from University police officers and security guards, but Fitchburg State has gone further. In January 2011, the school launched Fitchburg Anti-Violence Education (FAVE), a “campus-wide effort to prevent interpersonal relationship violence and sexual assault.”
Fitchburg State’s numbers in the violent crimes categories were middle of the road, but the school has begun paying extra attention to managing on-campus violence.
Fitchburg State University President Robert Antonucci said, “We give our very highest priority to the safety of our students. We have a highly-trained police force that employs traditional crime prevention techniques as well as high-tech measures to create a safe and healthy campus environment.”
Fitchburg State now makes all first-year and transfer students undergo mandatory education programming, which they hope will teach students how to “effectively and safely intervene and prevent incidents of violence.” The course includes a 75-minute bystander training session.
At the launch last January, Antonucci said, “We must encourage others to speak out when witnessing acts of violence, however small."
In a statement, Assumption College Police Lt. Steve Mackay said, "Assumption also has education programs in place for students. Crime prevention and bystander training programs are held at the start of each school year. Assumption also has RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) instructors on staff who proactively reach out to female students in an attempt to get as many trained as possible. In the recent past we have run three to five courses per year, but we will run as many as there is interest for each year."
Another challenge facing colleges is coming up with a universal, accurate way to report crimes. The very nature of how security varies from campus to campus can affect how crimes are reported, and unreported incidents prevent safety solutions.
Anna Maria College depends on local law enforcement. “We’ve brought on Paxton Police, so anything students report is an official police report, so we’re comfortable reporting is complete,” said Klein.
Robert Hart, Director of Public Safety at Holy Cross, said the school “Has an excellent working relationship and open communications with the Worcester Police Department, sharing information on a continuing and ongoing basis.”
From a national perspective, some colleges are lost in the entire process. Paul V. Verrecchia, president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators told GoLocalProv, “I think there are still colleges who are a little confused as to how to report and the Department of Education isn’t good about giving advice on how to report,” Verrechia said. “I think some schools are over-reporting in an abundance of caution, which is almost as bad as under-reporting.”
5 Schools with the Highest Regional Rate of Forcible Sexual Offenses
1. College of the Holy Cross
2. Assumption College
3. Clark University
Nichols College (tied)
4. Worcester State University
5 Schools with the Highest Regional Rate of Aggravated Assault
1. Nichols College
2. Becker College
3. Assumption College
4. Clark University
5. Fitchburg State University
5 Schools with the Highest Regional Rate of Burglary
1. Anna Maria College
2. Becker College
3. Nichols College
4. Assumption College
5. Clark University