Thursday, September 16, 2010

Criminology Catch-22

Crime on campus is going to happen. Some of it will be reported. If the college campus works diligently, as they are told to do, to report every single crime (as per the Clary Act, which you should wiki. Seriously), their crime numbers are quite high, but they're honest, and it speaks to the campus' awareness of crime (which often means they're taking action to improve safety) and the students' ease with reporting crime. If the college just copy/pastes the numbers that the police department says happened in the boundaries of the campus, they're missing so much information (especially if that college likes to "take care" of those problems themselves). And then there's 45% of campuses that report no crime at all (Utopia University?). What the hell does THAT mean? No crime reported? No crime at all?  Really?

My point is this—we look at statistics for crime on campus, and we have no clue what that really means. We see that University of California at Davis has 62 sexual assaults out of 30,000 people, and University of California at San Diego has 2 sexual assaults out of 27,000 people in the same year. Any parent (or student for that matter) would see those numbers and think, "Holy moly! Davis must be FREAKIN DANGEROUS! Um… I like not being sexually harassed, kthanks." But UC Davis has taken the Clary Act seriously and works diligently to try to account for every crime, to respond to it, and to work to help students know where to go to go/who to seek out when these crimes happen. Because of this, yes, their numbers are higher, but boy would I feel safer there (and I've been there—it really does kinda feel like Utopia University) than, say, at UC San Diego which is in a bigger city, and which said there was virtually no crime. They clearly underreported the sexual assault that (sadly) certainly happened.

On the other hand, high numbers could ALSO reflect a more dangerous campus. At least that's what we're trained to think. We're told to trust the statistics, to find comfort in knowing those numbers. Or to find discomfort in it. High sexual assault here, none over here—sounds like a person with half a peanut brain could figure that out. But what if the "none over here" campus is lying through their teeth because they don't want to hurt admission rates. We end up trusting in their made-up crap.
So what do we do? How do we tell, then? Guys, you're not going to like this—we can't fully know. There are too many nuances. We may never hear about the time that the quiet girl got harassed by that group of drunk guys. We may never know that 3 people reported the same crime because none of them knew that the others were reporting it. We may never know if that burglary was assault as well, but just reported as an assault or if it was both, and maybe a hate crime on top of it. Crime numbers are crap. They don't give us any real information, like they pretend to do. It's assumption (or a long-nosed lie) playing dress-up as cold, hard fact.

There may be typos.  I was typing this while listening/taking notes.

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