Staff Editorial: Caution in crime data
September 25, 2007
The efforts of Student Assembly members to address student concerns regarding the Campus Police are admirable. As elected representatives, it is their duty to actively examine campus policies and enact legislation to affect campus change. However, it is important that SA members exercise caution while researching pertinent campus crime figures, as it is often difficult to assess the full story from these statistics.
p. We sympathize with students who feel that the tactics of Campus and Williamsburg Police officers are unjust. Despite students’ horror stories, the College and police have denied any wrongdoing. It is important that the dialogue between the two sides remain positive and well-intentioned, and we hope that student representatives will research the matter carefully to avoid losing credibility with the police and the administration in future cases.
p. Using statistics available on the College’s website, one notices a significant increase in the number of judicial referrals over the past several years. However, tempering this rise is the rapid decline of arrests on campus. One could make the argument that while more students are being marched into the dean’s office, far fewer must respond to an outside court of law.
p. It is difficult to compare College data to crime data available from other schools, as there does not seem to be much cohesion among Virginia schools in how they classify crime figures. Simply looking at the figures — which initially suggest a shocking similarity between the number of alcohol violations at the College and much larger schools — may not explain the full picture. The College is one of the most residential schools in the state, leading to more on-campus incidents.
p. Campus Police Chief Don Challis has stated that for every arrest made, there are four judicial referrals issued, and one would be hard-pressed to find a student who would choose the former if given the option. Also, police officers are bound by Virginia law, and while students may at times question how they are treated by law enforcement officials, they must recognize that on many issues, the police cannot compromise.
p. The senators are, however, right to pursue cooperation with the Campus Police and to help clarify its role for students. They are also accurate in their assessment of the College’s alcohol policy, which encourages binge drinking behind closed doors and undermines the College’s ability to ensure the safety of its students. Even Challis has acknowledged that the drinking scene has gone underground or has been pushed off campus.
p. SA members should also further investigate the correlation, if any, between the current suppressive alcohol policy and the increase in sexual assault incidents. The College has responded that any increase in reported sexual assaults is merely a reflection of a more open dialogue between students, police and administration, but there may be more to this question.
p. In light of the recent events at Virginia Tech, students must not be afraid of the police, particularly if they or a friend may be in danger. The police, likewise, must be compassionate, reasonable and, where appropriate, sympathetic toward students. SA members can help to facilitate this by approaching the question honestly, avoiding skewing statistics and ensuring that student rights are protected. We know that Virginia state law and the basic rights of students at the College can co-exist.