Tag Archives: violent crime

Preventing Violent Crime on Campuses

Violent crime, a major and growing problem in this country, is exacerbated by the fact that many crimes go unreported. But there’s a simple fix to the lack of reporting: Make it easier for people to tip off authorities anonymously.

Developments in communications technology and in social media can play a decisive role in increasing reporting, especially among young people. Once authorities have more information, they can not only track down more criminals but can develop a fuller picture of where and under what conditions violent crimes occur, and can develop better prevention programs.

In California, the Visalia campus of the College of the Sequoias has a program  allowing individuals to report suspicious behavior on campus to local police anonymously via text, voice mail or email.

“Our best resource, by far, is the students and faculty right here on campus,” Chief of the Police department Bob Masterson told the student newspaper . “Even if you’re not the victim, you could be a great witness.”

Many students said the program, TipNow, keeps them safer; they also consider it a good idea for all campuses.

Such programs are essential because violent crime remains an unfortunate truth in the U.S. According to the FBI’s national crime statistics, 1.2 million violent crimes were committed in the U.S. in 2012, and  even seemingly safe, self-contained campus environments like schools, colleges, hotels, hospitals and corporations are not immune.

At U.S. hospitals, the violent crime rate per 100 hospital beds rose 25%, from 2.0 incidents in 2012 to 2.5 incidents last year, according to research released by the IHSS Foundation at the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety (IAHSS). The rate of disorderly conduct incidents experienced the biggest jump, from 28 per 100 hospital beds in 2012 to 39.2 last year (a rise of 40%). A separate IHSS Foundation study found that 89% of the hospitals surveyed had at least one event of workplace violence in the previous 12 months.

The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey reported the following statistics for workplace violence between 1993 and 1999:

  • While working or on duty, U.S. residents experienced 1.7 million violent victimizations annually, including 1.3 million simple assaults, 325,000 aggravated assaults, 36,500 rapes and sexual assaults, 70,000 robberies and 900 homicides.
  • Workplace violence accounted for 18% of all violent crime.

From  1997 through 2009, 335 murders occurred on college campuses, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education (2010).  Three-fifths of campus attacks in a 108-year span occurred in the past two decades.

Yet many crimes go unreported to campus authorities. A 1997 study about campus violence by Sloan, Fisher and Cullen found that only 35% of violent crimes on college campuses were reported to authorities.

There are various reasons for not reporting crimes. For example, many may regard a crime as too minor a matter to report or may consider it a private matter. Many studies have shown a reluctance to report crimes or other suspicious activities out of fear of the authorities or of criminal retribution.

For instance, in February 2009 in San Gabriel, Calif., two gunmen opened fire inside a coffee shop, killing one and wounding six others, but police had trouble finding witnesses to what appeared to be a gang-related attack even though the shop was crowded with at least 40 people. Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore was quoted as saying,  “We know people saw something, and we need them to come forward and help us solve this crime.”

Too many Americans are inculcated with the belief that “the authorities will attend to it” – without considering that, in many cases, the appropriate law enforcement agency is unaware of a danger. Although many domestic terrorist events and campus shootings are committed by those whose previous actions were seen by those around them as odd, or even threatening, too often these observations go unreported.

This is why the concept of anonymous reporting is important: to get more information from the campus community. This anonymity is now possible.

TipNow receives tips via SMS/text, email, voice and mobile-app. When the tips hit the TipNow server, the sender’s information is encrypted. The tip is then disseminated to a pre-defined set of administrators on the system via email and SMS/text. The administrators can ask for more information from the tipster, still anonymously. For extra security, the server will delete all identifying information in 24 to 72 hours.

The system looks like this:

TipNow

In a recent interview, an anti-terrorism official (name withheld at his request) expressed his view on prevention: “The ability to gather information, sift through it to find what is useful intelligence – and then rapidly get that information to the right people – can and has made the difference between tragedy and that tragedy being averted.”

Why Traditional Crime Measurements Don’t Tell the Whole Story

All over the nation, the question is being asked, “Why is the overall crime rate in the US on the decline?”

We have the answer:  “It’s not.”

In 1930, the FBI was given the task of collecting and publishing crime-rate statistics from across the country, and the UCR (Uniform Crime Reporting) Program was born. This program collects data from across the country, and it is published in several reports, including the often quoted Crime in the United States report. The report separates offenses into two categories: violent crime and property crime. 

These two categories appear to provide an adequate sample of the types of crimes that should be captured to measure the overall crime rate, but the four “property crime” categories fall short. There is a simple reason: They have not changed since the 1920s.*

For instance, the category of larceny-theft does not include embezzlement, confidence games, forgery, check fraud, etc. Identity theft, which is growing astronomically, is also not included.

According to the two entities within the federal government that measure and report identity theft rates — the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Consumer Sentinel Report and the Bureau of Justice Statistics — identity theft crime rates continue to increase. Identity theft has been ranked as the #1 complaint reported to the FTC for the past 13 years. Of the 2,061,495 complaints captured from a variety of organizations that share data with the FTC, 369,132 were regarding identity theft.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics uses the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) to capture and report its statistics on identity theft.  The last report available captures information from 2005-2010. According to this latest report, approximately 8.6 million households experienced financial identity theft.

The latest statistics available (2012) are from Javelin Strategy & Research Inc., an independent organization not affiliated with the federal government.  Their study concluded that there have been 12.6 million incidents of identity fraud.

Identity theft is increasing faster than property theft crimes are declining, but the public isn’t paying enough attention.  The reasons for apathy include the misconception that one can’t be a victim without a stellar credit rating (i.e., my identity isn’t worthy stealing) and the conspiracy theorist notion that this is all just a scare tactic promoted by industry to entice consumers into buying services that are unnecessary. Both are misguided.

A change in public perception is required. It has been engrained into us that we must take personal responsibility for safeguarding our possessions and our physical wellbeing, so why not our identity?

Most people realize that they cannot guarantee they will never be burglarized.  So they employ tactics to make it harder to break into their home.  When leaving for vacation, they secure doors and windows and activate alarms.  Often, mail is held at the post office and friends are asked to check in on the place.

People must likewise actively guard their identity components (such as passwords and devices).  Taking regular steps to safeguard your identity must become engrained in all of us.  It’s absolutely true that you can do everything right and still become a victim of identity theft – but why not make the thieves work hard?

Ask anyone if they would think twice about wandering into a dark alley, alone, at night, in a dicey neighborhood, and they would say, Absolutely! But consumers think nothing of going to strange websites and entering credit card (or even more personal information) without checking the legitimacy of the site, especially when you can get a screaming deal on that flat-screen TV or tablet.

It is widely recognized that fraud and financial crimes don’t scare or shock people in the same way that violent crimes do.  Unless they rise to the level of Bernie Madoff or Enron, the crimes rarely make headlines.

Additionally, financial crimes are often cited as much harder to accurately measure because of underreporting and lack of consistent reporting methods.**  Some individuals do not believe that financial crime victims suffer true harm, especially if they are eventually made financially whole, as can happen with some identity-theft victims.  There is a misconception that once an individual has false charges removed from a credit account, or false accounts removed from a credit report, or a false tax return remedied by the IRS, that they are no longer the victim.  The victim label is assigned to the entity that takes the financial hit, such as the credit card issuer/financial institution and the IRS. Regardless, a crime has still been committed. Even if the crimes are difficult to measure and don’t shock, they certainly should be included in our evaluation of crime rates.

The infiltration of technology into our daily lives has not only changed the way we live, it has changed the way crimes are being committed. Much like water, criminal elements will take the path of least resistance.  When law enforcement and society become adept at suppressing scofflaws by making a particular crime more difficult to commit, such as through anti-theft devices on cars, criminals move on to other crimes.

Non-violent crimes rates haven’t decreased; they have just changed. Whereas the criminal of twenty years ago was armed with a knife or a gun, today’s criminal is armed with a keyboard or skimming device. The weapon(s) of choice has changed from tools of violence to tools of technology.  Criminals aren’t committing fewer criminal acts, just different ones. We don’t have fewer criminals, only smarter ones.

* Upon inquiry, the FBI responded with the historical information to explain how the eight offense classifications known as Part I crimes were chosen as indicators of the overall crime rate in the country.  The first seven offenses were originally chosen in 1929.  Arson, the 8th offense was added in 1979. The 7 original offenses chosen to illustrate the overall crime rate and used in the annual publication Crime in the United States were not altered at that time.  In fact, they have remained mostly unchanged since the 1920s.

** The FBI has a Financial Crimes Report that is listed under its “Other Reports and Publications” section. Other offense data for fraud and fraud type offenses is captured in the FBI’s NIBRS (National Incident-Based Reporting System); however, identity theft is not one of the incident types captured.

The Financial Crimes Report(s) differ in format from the violent crime/property crime format in the UCR and are more difficult to decipher.  The data contained in these reports is for cases investigated by the FBI.  It does not include financial crimes cases for local jurisdictions throughout the United States as the UCR does.  The most recent report shows 5 year trends in various categories.  The categories of  Corporate Fraud, Securities and commodities fraud, health care fraud, and mortgage fraud (reported cases) all show increasing numbers. Financial institution fraud, insurance fraud, and money laundering case statistics show a decrease in numbers and mass marketing fraud has stayed relatively flat.

The NIBRS report for 2011 indicates there is data on the following fraud type offenses: Bribery – 293; Counterfeiting/Forgery – 74,131; Embezzlement – 17,000; Extortion – 1217, and Fraud Offenses – 245,301. This a total of over 330,000 known incidents that could be counted in the overall crime rate in the UCR.  Though small in comparison to the other property crime numbers, it is not a statistically irrelevant number.   Identity theft statistics are not captured on this report.  Identity theft statistics are published by another department within the USDOJ (of which the FBI is a part), the Bureau of Justice Statistics.