The number of reported on-campus burglaries nearly doubled from 2014 to 2015 – a spike the University Police Department chief attributed to a change in how campus police classify the crime.
The annual security report, which was released Friday, revealed the number of burglaries on the Foggy Bottom Campus rose from 11 incidents in 2014 to 20 last year, and on-campus robberies rose from zero to four during the same time period. UPD Chief RaShall Brackney said officers now tend to mark crimes as burglaries instead of thefts when determining the type of crimes.
The University defines a burglary as unlawful entry of an area with the attempt to commit a felony or a theft, while a theft is considered as an individual wrongfully obtaining or using another person’s property to deprive the owner of the property’s value, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.
Brackney did not say when the department made the classification change or the reason for it.
The number of burglaries reported on campus dropped by 70 percent two years ago after the numbers doubled in 2013. Last year, officials said the number of burglaries in 2014 were returning to normal after a string of burglaries on campus caused the spike in 2013. UPD arrested a man in Shenkman Hall in 2013 after he tried to take off with five laptops and other electronics from the building.
Last year, there were at least six laptop thefts reported to UPD in a three-week period. They were stolen from residence hall rooms and an unattended classroom.
The four on-campus robberies in 2015 is the largest number reported in at least three years, with only one being reported in 2013 and none in 2014. GW defines a robbery as taking or attempting to take something of value from a person through force.
Many of the reported robberies on campus have been pickpockets, Brackney said. Last June, a group of men distracted campus visitors in an elevator in the Science and Engineering Hall and took the wallet from one man’s pocket.
College campus safety consultant James Clark said especially on urban campuses, a spike in crimes like robberies and burglaries may not have to do with the university’s security and could have more to do with the surrounding area. A Metro stop on campus could cause a spike in the number of burglaries and robberies, just as a Metro stop in a residential area could lead to a similar trend in neighborhood crimes, he said.
GW effectively uses strings of robberies as opportunities to reinforce positive safety habits that could prevent future incidents, he said. He cited the University’s freshman orientation program – which includes sessions with UPD officers sharing safety tips – as one way GW promotes safety education.
During the 2015–16 school year, the Division of Student Affairs held 123 programs to educate the community on responsible behavior, including about 74 on crime prevention and general security and safety awareness, according to the security report.
“Those are the kind of things that would diminish the opportunity for a street robbery,” he said.
Even as campus burglary numbers increased, overall burglary reports in D.C. decreased from 2014 to 2015, according to MPD crime data. Clark said the trend in GW’s report could reflect that students feel more comfortable on campus and let their guards down.
“One of the problems that we’ve seen on many college campuses is that some students get comfortable, and they sometimes leave their doors unlocked because they trust their neighbors,” Clark said. “If some outsider gets in the building, they go down the hall and shake doors until they find one that’s not locked.”
Michael Levine, a safety consultant, said that a university can reduce burglaries on campus by adding security cameras and vigilance security personnel.
“The biggest thing is electronic surveillance and an on-campus vigilance patrol, that is students who volunteer to patrol and notify the police of all suspicious looking presences on campus,” Levine said. “That will cut it down drastically.”
The report also showed an increased number of the burglaries were reported to MPD instead of UPD: Twelve of the 20 burglaries last year were reported to MPD, compared to the 11 reported to UPD the year before. No burglaries were reported to MPD in 2014.
UPD works closely with MPD officers in the city department’s second district, where GW is located, Brackney said. She added that both MPD and UPD patrol campus to increase police visibility and to deter crime on campus.
“In all of our safety awareness messages we encourage the community to either call GWPD or MPD,” she said.
Students may have reported crimes to MPD more often because they know to call 911 in emergencies or were used to calling city police departments at home, Clark, the campus safety consultant, said.
“It could be simply students, regardless of where they are from, are used to calling 911,” Clark said. “So if you call 911, there is a pretty could chance you would get the metro dispatch instead of the campus dispatch.”