D.C. violent crime up, GW still safe

Although GW’s Foggy Bottom campus can seem like a protective bubble, the University is located in a city with some of the nation’s highest crime rates.

Last year the District experienced a 7 percent increase in homicide rates as well as increased rates of non-fatal shooting and gun related violence, according to Metropolitan Police Department statistics. The murder increase comes on the heels of a declining trend of murder rates which began in 2002 and reached a 21-year low in 2006 with 169 killings. In comparison, the total number of homicides in 2007 was 181.

City officials attribute this increase in homicides to an increase in street violence.

“(In the community) we have a number of people trying to resolve disputes with handguns, and there is very little MPD can do about that,” said Traci Hughes, an MPD spokesperson.

None of these killings occurred in the city’s Second District – an area of the city which encompasses Foggy Bottom – though the number of assaults with a deadly weapon has increased in the area, peaking in September with a high of 16, according to MPD data.

“The Second District has continued to have a very low rate of homicides. The prevalent crime problem in the Second District has continued to be property crime, burglaries and thefts,” said Dolores Stafford, chief of the University Police Department, in an e-mail.

George Rengert, a criminologist specializing in crime geography at Temple University, said despite being located in high-crime cities, urban campuses tend to be very safe. He cited studies done at Northeastern University in Boston that found little correlation between where a school is located and the rate of student victimization.

“People don’t understand that college campuses are relatively safe because they’ve attracted the most criminogenic age group, 18 to 24, but it’s not a cross-section of that age group, it’s the highest achieving ones (that are on campuses),” Rengert said.

He cited “campus pride” as another reason for low student victimization rates on college campuses, creating a propensity to help one another.

“Students don’t like seeing crime occurring in their neighborhoods,” Rengert said.

Rengert said campus police forces contribute to the relative campus safety compared to the surrounding city.

“Campus police departments are often better trained than urban police departments. Urban police departments are trained to solve crime and catch criminals while university police are trained to stop crime before it occurs,” he said.

Philadelphia is another U.S. city with crime problems like those that plague D.C. – it also has several universities located in urban area. With numbers slightly higher than the District, Philadelphia has seen an 11 percent increase in the 2007 murder rate, according to Philadelphia Police Department data.

Lieutenant Frank Vanore of the Philadelphia Police Department said nine of the city’s 23 districts are responsible for 65 percent of the city’s crime. The University of Pennsylvania is located in West Philadelphia – one of the city’s high-crime areas.

Penn’s biggest on – campus crime issue is theft – similar to GW. In 2006, Penn had about 43 cases of combined theft while GW saw about 55, according to police data from Washington and Philadelphia. Auto theft – both theft from autos and theft of autos – accounted for about 14 of GW’s cases.

Violent crimes on Penn’s campuses are relatively low compared to other parts of the city, but students who venture off-campus to nearby crime-ridden areas of Philadelphia become a safety concern for Penn and city officials.

Vanore said that the city police department works closely with Public Safety, Penn’s campus police department, to educate students on the safest routes to take around the city.

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