Spatial patterns of crime in Ottawa: the role of universities.

AuthorLaRue, Elise


Universities can be the location of a variety of types of crime. The parking lots at universities provide a large number of potential targets for motor vehicle theft. University sporting events can attract large crowds and encourage drinking and rivalry that can lead to assaults. Student drinking and partying is an issue for many campuses and can result in noise disturbances, vandalism, and violence. University facilities and dormitories are also the target of theft and burglary, especially the theft of laptops and other electronic equipment. Finally, sexual assaults and robberies can occur on campuses and dormitories at night.

The relationship between universities and crime became the focus of criminological research in the 1990s, when the Unites States Congress approved the Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act. This Act required colleges and universities to publish statistics regarding on-campus crimes and to make their crime prevention and security policies and procedures available to the public (Fisher, Sloan, Cullen, and Lu 1998). In 1997, the Accuracy in Campus Crime Reporting Act revised the security-reporting requirement to achieve timely and accurate disclosure of campus crime statistics and security provisions (Fisher et al. 1998). These legislative changes created an opportunity for academics to use these data to study the trends in crime on campuses in the United States. There were studies examining the factors influencing crime on campuses before this legislation, but these readily available data, combined with reports of violent incidents on campus, renewed interest in this area. In recent years, there have been several studies examining the relationship between crime and universities, but there is a lack of research in a Canadian context.

Why would we expect universities to have more crime? Quite simply, universities create many opportunities for crime for the reasons stated above, and universities within cities are target/opportunity rich. Such locations are prime examples of either crime generators or crime attractors (Brantingham and Brantingham 1995). A crime generator generates a lot of crime simply because it is a place that brings together many motivated offenders and suitable targets for non-criminal activities--the type of location described by routine activity theory (Cohen and Felson 1979). And because all these motivated offenders and suitable targets are brought together in time and space, opportunities are recognized and seized upon. Crime attractors, on the other hand, attract motivated offenders because of known opportunities for crime (Brantingham and Brantingham 1995). Either way, crime generators and crime attractors generate more crime than would be expected given other conditions and are excellent concepts to help understand the role that universities play in the spatial patterns of crime across cities.

In the present article, we examine crime in the City of Ottawa, Ontario, where both Carleton University and the University of Ottawa are located. Invoking social disorganization theory and routine activity theory for control variables, we use a spatial regression technique to identify relationships between crime and the presence of a university campus in dissemination areas. Thus, our research question is, "Do universities act as crime generators or crime attractors leading to an increase in crime?" We find that the presence of a university campus does increase crime but not in a monolithic fashion. Rather, the impact of universities on crime varies by crime type and the location of the campus.

University and college campuses and crime

The research that investigates the relationship between university/ college campuses and crime can be separated into two primary categories: research that considers on-campus crime only and research that considers crime on and off campus. Although the present article falls into the latter category, we provide a review of the research that covers both categories. It should be noted, however, that there is other research that investigates different forms of campus crime, such as hate crimes (Stotzer and Hossellman 2012; Wessler 2004); no explicit review of such studies is presented here.

On-campus studies

Several studies have examined the factors influencing crime on university campuses. Molumby (1976), through the analysis of a victimization survey that considered both counts and crime rates based on the number of housing units on campus, found that, in campus residences, 70% of crimes occur between midnight and 7:00 a.m. Larger residence buildings, residences located along major routes, and residences with poor visibility and surveillance were also found to have a disproportionate amount of crime.

In an analysis of police reported crime rates per 10,000 students, McPheters (1978) found a positive relationship between security expenditures and crime that is superficially contrary to routine activity theory's premise of guardianship. However, this finding is likely due to the fact that security measures are introduced because of high levels of crime. A positive relationship between dormitory population and crime was also found that may be due to the larger number of potential targets at a residential campus in comparison to a commuter campus. The positive relationship between the unemployment rate off campus and the crime rate on campus might be attributable to motivated offenders travelling to campuses in search of potential targets (McPheters 1978).

Sommer (1987) compared two student residence locations in the context of the principles of defensible space. Considering crime rates per student living in the residence locations, Sommer (1987) found that the high-rise student residence had twice the crime rate of the other student residence--most of this crime was minor, but it did include robbery, assault, burglary, arson, and weapons-based crimes. Moreover, when considering counts of crime, the high-rise had a total of 41 thefts, burglaries, robberies, and assaults, whereas the other residence only had 1 of each crime type. Of course, the risk of victimization must be accounted for, but the number of crimes can contribute to the fear of crime in the student population.

Sloan (1994) extended studies conducted by McPheters (1978) to examine factors influencing crime rates per 1,000 students and faculty (fulltime and part-time) at 481 American college and university campuses in 1989-90, including total offences, theft and burglary offences, violent offences, vandalism offences, and assaults. The author also examined crime prevention measures used at the campuses and campus characteristics such as number of full-time faculty, number of students, number of faculty members per acre, ratio of students to faculty, and number of fraternities and sororities located on campus. Sloan (1994) found that academics (a composite variable consisting of variables representing the academic stature/reputation of the institution) and size (a composite variable consisting of the variables representing factors such as enrolment, number of faculty, etc.) were positively related, while number of students was negatively related to theft and burglary; setting and minorities were positively related and academics was negatively related to violent crime; setting, minorities, crowding, and size were all negatively related to drinking and drug offences; minorities and size were negatively related and academics and number of students were positively related to vandalism; crowding and safety were negatively related and size and setting were positively related to total crime.

Bromley (1995) examined the influence of security features as well as demographic and campus characteristics on crime counts in college and university campuses. Using campus crime data from the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administration for 265 American colleges and universities, Bromley (1995) found that large student populations and the number of dormitory students were associated with campus crime because these campuses had a greater number of potential targets--the number of acres and number of buildings were also associated with campus crime. Bromley (1995) also found that a greater level of security was associated with more crime, likely due to campuses increasing security programs in response to crime problems.

Fisher et al. (1998) investigated patterns of student victimization invoking routine activity theory. They used a victimization survey of 3,472 randomly selected students from 12 institutions during the 1993 to 1994 academic year, calculating crime rates per 1,000 students as well as victimization in a logistic model. The authors found that assaults were the most common type of violent crime, whereas theft was the most common type of property crime. Motor vehicle theft was rare but theft from vehicles was more common, and students were more than twice as likely to experience theft on campus than off campus. Students who reported partying on campus, drinking alcohol, and taking drugs had an increased risk of violence. Males and students between the ages of 17 to 20 years had an increased risk of theft. And students who spent more money on non-essential items experienced more theft, while being a member of a sorority or fraternity decreased the risk of theft. These findings supported routine activity theory's premises of target attractiveness and guardianship, stated above.

Comparing victimization survey data with official crime data, Henson and Stone (1999) found that most crimes (considering counts) on campuses are property-based, regardless of the data source, but many are not reported to the police. They also found that many crimes are crimes of opportunity such that crime prevention methods would be particularly instructive in a campus crime context.

More recently, Barton, Jensen, and Kaufman (2010) analysed property and violent...

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