The University Record, December 6, 1999

U releases 1998 campus crime stats; data show little overall change

By Joel Seguine
News and Information Services

Crime rates on the Ann Arbor campus have remained relatively stable over the past three years, according to statistics released Dec. 1. The University is required by law to report annually on campus crime to the U.S. Department of Education.

A comparison of data over the three-year period, 1996–98, indicates only minor trends upward or downward, even as the campus population has increased, according to William Bess, director of the Department of Public Safety (DPS).

“With our campus population—including students, faculty and staff—in the neighborhood of 60,000, we can expect a certain number of crimes to occur. Also, about 10,000 people per day pass through our Health System, which poses additional challenges,” Bess said.

“What these data show is that we’re making good progress in some areas, while we have more to do as a campus community to address others. It’s important to remember that each of these crimes affects at least one individual as well as the sense each of us has about the campus as a safe environment. Each offense is one too many.”

According to the data, violent crimes against individuals, including forcible sexual offenses and robbery, generally have held steady over the past three years, with the exception of a slight rise in aggravated assaults. Property crimes, including burglary and motor vehicle theft, show an overall downward trend. Reported incidents of arson are up slightly, although most of these reports involve minor incidents such as trash can fires, said James Smiley, DPS associate director. “Many of these fires start as pranks, but they still can have serious consequences,” he said.

The data show an increase in weapons possession violations; however, according to Smiley, none of the 1998 violators were affiliated with the U-M.

One area that has seen a steady increase is liquor law violations. Though not all of these are offenses by members of the campus community, Bess said, the numbers reflect increased attention by DPS to alcohol enforcement—including stricter enforcement in Michigan Stadium—as well as an increase in underage drinking identified in the Student Life Survey conducted last spring.

“Alcohol is still the number one drug of abuse on campuses nationwide,” Bess said. He also noted that alcohol and drugs play a role in a large percentage of assaults.

The Ann Arbor campus has seen a sizable and steady decrease in the number of larcenies, from 1,822 in 1996 to 1,348 in 1998. Bess said DPS has focused on preventing these types of crimes through security surveys and evaluation of campus areas, altering the environment where possible to reduce opportunities for thefts.

Bess, who was appointed DPS director in July, said efforts to reduce crime also are dependent on community awareness. “We are pleased with the active participation of students, faculty and staff in our Community Oriented Policing Program, which directly links officers with geographic areas of the campus.

“As a newcomer, I’m particularly impressed with community members’ willingness to report suspicious behavior and losses, even though they may be perceived as minor. It’s clear to me that the community is not willing to accept this kind of behavior,” he said.

Bess said he plans to expand the Community Oriented Policing Program, assigning a larger number of officers to specific geographic areas. These officers will work in teams with the patrol officers in developing solutions to crime problems that affect each particular area.

In addition, the department will be hiring a crime analyst, a specialist who will look for patterns in the crimes taking place and identify areas of vulnerability. “For example,” Bess said, “if we discover a number of computers are being stolen in a particular area, we will examine the contributing factors that provide opportunities for those thefts to occur, and look for ways to reduce those opportunities.

“It’s important to involve the community in the development of solutions to crime problems,” he said. “It’s every community member’s responsibility to get involved with public safety.”