Campus crime deserves greater attention by CPs
On Tuesday, The Tech reported that MIT has the highest crime rate per capita of any college in Massachusetts, and the fifth highest in the nation ["MIT crime rate tops state"]. Campus Police Chief Anne P. Glavin downplayed the statistics, arguing that they don't really reflect how safe students are on campus. That is strictly true, but misleading. The campus has a serious problem with property crimes, and even though Glavin said, "many of the incidents reported have nothing to do with students," to claim these do not have an effect on student lives is to deny reality.
MIT's police feel defensive about these statistics. Glavin feels that because the statistics USA Today published are based on the number of students at each campus, rather than the total population, they make comparisons misleading. Also, some campuses didn't provide any hard numbers. For example, the University of Chicago, nestled in the heart of Chicago's dangerous South Side, declined to participate, as did a quarter of the schools located in New York state.
But some schools participated in this survey despite having never provided statistics to anyone before. Harvard University, for one. Even Glavin was surprised to find out that they had sent some numbers to USA Today. Perhaps the thought of seeing the words "Harvard University -- refused" in a national newspaper struck fear in their hearts. Two years from now, they will be unable to refuse. The Campus Crime Security Act, recently signed into law by President Bush, will require schools to disclose statistics on campus crime, beginning in 1992. Overall, USA Today sent surveys to 530 campus police departments; 49 declined to provide information.
Jurisdictions also present a challenge to accurately interpreting these data. In USA Today's compilation, Columbia University, located on the border of Harlem in New York City, reported lower crime rates per capita in their jurisdiction than MIT. I don't believe that MIT is less safe than Columbia. And I'm sure their students don't believe it either.
MIT's crime statistics would have to be an amalgam of numbers from police departments in Cambridge, Boston, Brookline and the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan District Commission, in addition to our own numbers, if they were to accurately reflect all student-related crime. Thefts from residences -- a statistic we can trust since they all go through the Campus Police -- are down. In other areas around or near campus, however, it doesn't appear thefts are on the decline. (Contrary to what Glavin has said, thefts outside residences do affect students.)
Those of us who park their cars near campus are vulnerable. Cambridge has one of the worst per capita rates of car theft in the nation. I alone know three people whose cars have been stolen while parked near campus in the past year. Mine was parked in front of Ashdown, where it disappeared overnight. It was a professional job. My car was recovered near Boston Common, its insides stripped of everything of value. And yet, Glavin claimed in Tuesday's story that these crimes are committed by professionals, and should not be considered campus crime. Okay, it's not the CP's jurisdiction, but students have to park there.
Car thefts out on Memorial Drive are not a part of the statistics compiled by the Campus Police. We live under three different police jurisdictions on this side of the river, so if your car disappears, the police you call depend on where you last thought your car was. Memorial Drive belongs to the MDC; Cambridge police write the $15 "Storage" tickets I've gotten during the summer on Amherst Street; MIT's people patrol the alleys, parking lots, and campus. With all of these overlapping jurisdictions, I wonder how well patrolled certain areas of campus are. Cambridge's police seem more interested in writing harassing parking tickets and catching speeders on Massachusetts Avenue than going after car thieves.
Auto thefts are not the only other property thefts affecting students. Robbery in the Institute buildings affect many graduate students. A $7000 laser head was stolen from a research lab down the hall from where I work. MIT's insurance covered it, since it was MIT property (less a $1000 deductible), but a friend of mine lost nearly four months of research time because part of his experiment vanished.
What can be done about thefts on campus? The campus is a sieve; anyone can get in at any time. That's unfortunate, but necessary. Graduate students and tooling undergraduates need access to campus all day, every day. And because of MIT's layout, the moment that you leave one outside door unlocked, you make the entire campus open to everyone. So people have to lock their office and laboratory doors at night. That's just common sense. But not common enough.
On the other hand, where are the Campus Police at night? Other than around paid events, like Lecture Series Committee movies and parties, they're hard to find. If you call emergency, they will show up, but they are reactive, not proactive.
Why not have more good old-fashioned foot patrols on campus? They could wander around a few buildings, and get to know people. Over time, they'd find out who works late, and what their habits are; who knows, they might even make some friends.
We have some foot patrols now, but not many. I have no idea whose beat my office is. I wish I did. At Ashdown, someone once left a note on my door telling me that it had been left unlocked, and anything inside could have been stolen. Why doesn't someone do the same outside dormitories? And sign their names to it, so I can talk to them later?
The dormitories have nightwatchmen, and the Campus Police drop by the dorms at night. But again, it seems like the concern for security begins and ends with the living groups. They're comparatively easy to protect -- you can control access to the buildings; you can assign people to watch all of the entrances.
Controlling non-residence thefts requires more finesse. Both the police and the people working there must take a more active role. But downplaying the issue is not the answer. We know we have a problem. What can Glavin do to help?
Dave Watt, a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry, is an associate news editor of The Tech.
Cambridge has one of the worst per capita rates of car theft in the nation.
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