New Study Provides Realistic Look at School Crimes

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The latest profile of who commits crimes in schools and what weapons are involved has emerged from a new study by the FBI’s Crime Analysis, Research & Development Unit.

Some surprises and some reinforcements of prevailing beliefs are documented in the report on offenses and offenders in U.S. schools, colleges, and universities during a recent 5-year period.

“Crime in schools and colleges is one of the most troublesome social problems today,” state the report’s authors, James Noonan and Malissa Vavra. Because it affects not only those immediately involved but “also hinders societal growth and stability, … it is vital to understand the characteristics” of school crime and criminals “so that law enforcement, policy makers, school administrators, and the public can properly combat and reduce” these offenses.

Nearly 50,000,000 students attend more than 90,000 schools in the U.S., including 16,000,000 students enrolled in some 4,200 post-secondary institutions. However, the study data came from about a third of the nation’s state and local LE agencies, who police roughly 20% of the U.S. population.

“Despite the limited sampling, one strength of the FBI survey,” says Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State University-Mankato, “is that it provides a more representative picture of the true nature of school crime than do the shocking headlines about active shooter incidents so often associated with educational institutions.”

Highlights of the FBI analysis of nearly 620,000 school-related offenses include:

OFFENSE TYPE

Perpetrators were most often arrested for simple assault and drug violations, these 2 categories accounting for more than half (52%) of the arrests. But the full range of offenses included virtually anything officers might encounter in any community: kidnapping, forcible rape, sexual assault with an object, murder/manslaughter, incest, burglary, arson, vehicle theft, counterfeiting, robbery, theft from coin machines, ATM fraud, trespass, DUI, gambling, prostitution-you name it. Almost 38% of all crimes reported on school campuses involved a violent criminal offense.

FREQUENCY

The number of school crimes reported increased from more than 84,000 a year to over 132,000 annually during the study period, but much of this numerical increase is believed to be the result of more thorough reporting. The portion of crime generally that occurred at school locations held steady at about 3% across all 5 years of the study.

TIMING

School crimes most often occurred in October across the survey period, followed by March and September.

OFFENDERS

Males were reported as offenders 3.3 times more often than females. Whites accounted for more than 70% of offenders and were 2.5 times more likely to be perpetrators “than were all other races combined.” The most common age group for offenders was 13-15 years old (38%), the least common (about 2%) under 9. Surprisingly, 287 offenders in the study were reported to be 4 years old or younger. Overwhelmingly, offenders were residents of the community in which the crime took place.

VICTIM-OFFENDER RELATIONSHIP

An acquaintance or someone “otherwise known” to the victim was 3.3 times more likely to be an offender than any other type of perpetrator. A stranger was reported as the offender only 7.5% of the time. Just as often, a relationship termed “Victim was Offender” was reported. This involved incidents in which “all participants were victims and offenders,” such as assaults resulting from brawls or fights.

WEAPONS

Personal weapons (hands, feet, fists, etc.) were 3.4 times more often involved in crimes than any other weapon type, although criminal offenses with no weapons involved were second most common. Knives or other cutting instruments outweighed “the number of times guns were used by 3.2 to1.” Defined weapon categories included blunt objects, explosives, motor vehicles, fire, and poison, while an unspecified category (“Other”), which ranked third in frequency, included such weapons as “acid, pepper spray, belts, deadly diseases, [and] scalding hot water.”

These findings, according to authors of the report, “may be useful for officials and policy makers at educational institutions who are seeking to develop proactive policies, an important need to effectively protect these vital societal foundations.”

[Our thanks to Tom Moy of the University of Delaware Police Dept. for tipping us to the FBI’s study.]

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