Stabbing may be symptomatic of rising crime

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April 28, 2009

2:31 AM

William and Mary Chief of Police cannot yet say whether the alleged stabbing of a freshman at the College of William and Mary April 14 will be filed as an aggravated assault. If it is recorded as such, it will be the second aggravated assault on campus this year.

The first incident took place early April 12 outside the Sadler Center where three individuals assaulted and attempted to rob four students at the College.

Citing previously unpublished 2008 crime statistics, Challis said that one case of aggravated assault took place on campus last year. In 2006 and 2007, there were none.

“We’re looking at numbers that aren’t all that high. So when you have a jump from zero to one, or one to two, that’s pretty dramatic; and it’s double, but one and two is not really [significant],” Challis said.
In most other categories, the number of criminal offenses has either remained the same or decreased since 2007.

According to Challis, there were no murders, negligent manslaughters, robberies, motor vehicle thefts (compared to one in 2007) or arsons. The number of sex offenses stands at zero as well, but Challis says that could change during the summer.

“That number comes from numerous sources, because not all sexual assaults are reported to the police,” Challis said. “Student Affairs, [the] Counseling Center and other on and off-campus groups report their numbers for the year [during the summer].”

While statistics from 2007 to 2008 showed little variation, Campus Police reports show that crime rates have risen dramatically in four years, from three burglaries in 2004 to 14 in 2005, and 17 in 2006 to 21 in 2007 and 2008.

However, Challis claims that the increase is most likely not due to an absolute rise in the number of burglaries on campus, but rather to the increased likelihood of students to report stolen items in a declining economy as well as to a change in the department’s classification procedures.

“That would be a false trend,” Challis said. “They’re probably about the same as they’ve been except now we’re getting people to report things a little better, and also, we categorize things a little tighter.”

In 2005, three burglaries were erroneously filed as larcenies by the William and Mary Police Department during the previous year.

According to the Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to report crime statistics to the Department of Education, the College must report burglaries but not larcenies.

“Based on some information we have got from the Clery people, we are being more — I’m not sure if the word is liberal or conservative — of our interpretation of a burglary,” Challis said. “Burglary is entering an unoccupied structure that’s a private area. If somebody takes something out of your room, and it’s not the roommate, then we have to call it a burglary. And many times we would [hear], ‘Oh I lost this; the last place I think I had it was my room, so somebody took it out of my room.’ And we weren’t always calling those burglaries, even though we knew it was probably lost some place.”

Challis says there would be no reason for the department to hide any crimes.

“There’s no upside to hiding crime, underreporting crime,” Challis said. “What’s it matter if we have 22 or 21 burglaries? So why would we cover up one burglary? We’re not always proud of these numbers, but they are what they are. Our students need to know what’s on campus, so we tell them honestly.”

Challis also emphasized that the College is the safest of all the universities where he has worked and that colleges are, in general, reasonably safe environments.

“Statistically you are safer on a college campus than anywhere else, such as parking lots, stores, parks, restaurants and etc.,” Challis said.

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