Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Schools and Crime

Schools have proven one of the most productive sites to mobilize fear of crime over the last several decades. Although studies regularly show that both K-12 and college are safer from violent crime than any other comparable places that members of those age cohorts would be (including sadly at home), there is something about the high expectations of institutional care taking associated with education that makes it a compelling media and political issue. See generally chapter 7 of Governing through Crime (Safe Schools: Reforming Education through Crime)

In today's NYT columnist Bob Herbert writes (requires Times Select) about homicides among school aged kids in Chicago and a speech Sen. Barak Obama just gave about the gang problem there. Herbert is right to call attention to these tragedies but wrong to stoke more fear about schools; --- almost all of the shootings he describes actually happened outside of schools. Senator Obama, unfortunately, is choosing to sound Clintonian on the gang problem; calling for more police and for government to "combat" gangs, --- rather than social policies that would drain the underlying source of support for gangs by removing illegal drug profits and making the path to college clear and http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.giffinancially viable for all Americans regardless of wealth.

In today's LA Times, PJ Huffstutter reports on the firing of top university and campus police officials at Eastern Michigan State University in Ypsilanti Michigan for covering up the murder (and sexual assault) of student Laura Dickinson in December of 2006. Officials lied to Dickinson's family by claiming she died of asphyxiation and that there was no evidence of crime. Later another EMU student confessed. A federal report found that among other wrongs, the officials violated the Jeanne Clery Act which requires all colleges and universities to report crimes to students, parents, and others.

In a sad illustration of the GTC cycle, public anxiety of crime at schools and campuses, stoked by a federal law mandating crime reporting, leads school officials to "game" the system by under-reporting. Of course these officials acted like scoundrels and deserve to be fired. College campuses, often located in central or older cities, are highly vulnerable to panics about crime, but when these rare tragedies occur (or like Va. Tech.) it is almost always other students, not local criminals, who are responsible.

Today, by rule of law and standard practices, schools, workplaces, churches, organizations, individuals, and other entities are expected, if not required, to alert their patrons or neighbors of any foul play, presumably because it would put them in danger not to know this and because it gives them the option to change their routine—change jobs, schools, living location, place of worship, means of transportation, jogging routes, grocery stores, etc.—to avoid the risk to which they would be alerted.

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