Campus theft percentage over summer hits five-year low

Media Credit: Alexander Welling | Assistant Photo Editor

Campus sustained 44 thefts from the last day of spring classes to the first day of the fall semester this year, down about 6 percent from 47 thefts last summer.

Thefts on campus constituted the lowest percentage of thefts this summer compared to the past five summers, according to data from the Metropolitan Police Department.

Campus sustained 44 thefts from the last day of spring classes to the first day of the fall semester this year, down about 6 percent from 47 thefts last summer, according to MPD data. Criminal justice experts said decreases in theft can typically be attributed to a downturn in campus population or a decrease in valuable items near campus.

Mary Paradis, the interim chief of the GW Police Department, said she has prioritized improving radio communication between uniformed staff members to boost crime monitoring on campus and ensure that on-duty officers know where other officers are located.

“While changes in crime data can be attributed to multiple factors, and some are not apparent until you compare years worth of statistics, I am pleased in the decrease of thefts on campus this summer,” she said in an email.

Alyssa Ilaria | Graphics Editor

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Thefts constituted 80 percent of crime on campus this summer compared to previous summers, when theft accounted for 90 to 94 percent of total campus crime. Of the campus’s 55 crimes this summer, 44 were thefts, three were burglaries, two were robberies and one was a sex abuse.

“While thefts in the Second District increased over this same time period, those at GW did not,” Paradis said. “I consider that a successful summer.”

The Second District, the police jurisdiction in which the Foggy Bottom Campus sits, endured 544 thefts this summer, up almost 30 percent from last summer when 421 thefts occurred.

Several suspects also stole purses, backpacks or wallets from campus in June, July and August, including a man wearing only red boxers who stole a paramedic’s wallet at the GW Hospital.

An unknown suspect stole a man’s electric scooter and laptop in May outside of the Residences on the Avenue. A person stole a man’s MacBook Air and leather backpack from his car parked outside of the GW Hillel building in June.

The overall summer crime count hit a four-year low in 2017 when 41 crimes occurred on campus, 38 of them thefts. Thefts have accounted for a decreasing percentage of crime each summer since 2016, when thefts constituted 94 percent of total campus crime.

MPD spokeswoman Alaina Gertz declined to comment on how the District’s crime rate changes during the summer, citing a department policy not to comment on crime trends.

Property crimes, which include thefts, have increased across the District since January 2019 and have been most concentrated in Ward 2, where GW is located, MPD data shows. Thefts from cars in Ward 2 jumped 53 percent from 2018, and six thefts from automobiles occurred on campus this summer, accounting for about 12 percent of total campus crimes, according to the data.

Gertz said MPD launched a campaign last spring to avert automobile thefts in the District by encouraging drivers to remove valuable items from their cars before leaving or to lock more expensive items in the glove compartment or trunk.

“MPD is consistently working and communicating with our local and federal partners, including the GW Police Department, to ensure the safety and well-being of all district residents and visitors,” she said in an email.

Criminal justice experts said the increase in overall neighborhood thefts could be attributed to an uptick in neighborhood population or an increase in valuable items in the area.

Alex Piquero, a criminology professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, said theft could have dropped on campus because offenders have moved to a part of the city where homeowners possess more valuable items or where policing is less strict.

“The reasons why crime may go down are that police do certain kinds of surveillance tactics – you could nab a ring, or the crime could just moves somewhere else,” Piquero said.

Andrew Harris, a criminal justice professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, said looking at theft as a percentage of total crime should be contextualized with the actual number of crimes that occurred. Harris said a decrease in the number of campus crimes during the summer could be attributed to the fact that fewer people roam campus.

“The people who are trying to steal things are likely going somewhere else,” he said. “They’re likely to show up on the GW campus when there’s more students around to steal from.”

Ilena Peng contributed reporting.

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