Crimes on Campus

Crimes on Campus

Securing a college or university campus is similar to any small city

College and university campuses aren’t immune from the same types of crime, such as burglary and assault, found in any small city where thousands of people live and work closely together. Yet overall, campuses remain a mostly safe place for young adults to learn and mature.

The most recent statistics from the Department of Education show the number of reported campus crimes dropped by about 35 percent from the early 2000s to 2012 and have remained largely unchanged for the past six years. However, the numbers of campus sexual assaults have steadily increased.

Hardening Entries

A student-run study posted on an investigative news website found nearly half of all reported sexual assaults on 10 large four-year university campuses occurred in freshmen dorms. What can be done to protect students in their dorms and on campus property?

All dormitory entries should be kept locked with one door designated for residents and visitors. Current best practices call for residents to enter the dorm and their rooms using an access control card and reader or keypad with a personal identification number (PIN). A basic cardkey/keypad system is relatively inexpensive and eliminates the time and cost of rekeying traditional mechanical locks, when keys are lost or stolen. Lost access cards can also easily be eliminated from the access control system and PINs can be changed and updated in seconds.

Many campuses are also moving to smart cards, enabling students to enter their dorms and recreation centers. Students may also use these cards for making on-campus purchases of food, books and event tickets. Some colleges have added biometric readers at dormitory entrances—using fingerprint, iris or facial recognition—as part of a two-factor authentication system at main entry points.

Video intercoms, typically mounted near a dorm’s front door, are another tool for hardening visitor entries. Visitors push a call button to reach a student’s room. Intercoms enable residents to screen visitors via clear audio and video before unlocking the door remotely from their dorm room. If the visitor is not approved, or the resident is out of his or her room, the door stays locked. Students can also use intercoms to directly reach campus security or police in case of an emergency.

Video intercoms also enable students to look for “piggybacking”— an event where unannounced guests attempt to enter along with an approved visitor. Video from the unit’s embedded cameras can be recorded for forensic review. Resident assistants are able to monitor intercoms mounted at other doors such as delivery bays. Units capable of connecting to the campus network can also be monitored in a security operations center (SOC). This allows campus police to respond to visitor requests at night and on holidays when students may be unavailable.

Once inside, visitors should produce a government-issued identification card to swipe through a visitor management system. The card’s data is compared to online federal and local criminal databases and sex offender registries. Once the visitor is cleared, the system prints an adhesive ID badge to be worn while in the dorm. The entire entry process—intercom and visitor management system— takes only about a minute to complete.

Individual room doors should be automatically locked to the interior hallways when closed. A peephole enables students to see other visitors living in the dorm before opening the door. Panic buttons installed in a dorm’s common areas can also provide students with another way of directly connecting to campus security/police.

If an emergency occurs, networked intercoms can provide clear communications throughout all campus buildings. Other emergency communications systems can employ emails and/or text messages to warn commuter students and staff of dangers. The same intercom systems can be shared with local first responders.

Outdoor Security

Other security layers are ideal for use around a dormitory’s outdoor perimeter. Criminals don’t like to work where they can be easily seen. That’s why lighting is so important around dorm entries and perimeters as well as along pathways and in parking lots and garages. Video cameras can provide real-time video of all building entries and the perimeter. Trees and bushes should be regularly trimmed, so criminals aren’t provided with hiding places. Blue-light emergency stations near front doors enable students to contact security with the push of a button.

Emergency towers provide security along pedestrian pathways, running trails and in parking facilities. Cameras embedded inside the towers provide visual data that campus police can use to determine a proper call response. Police can also immediately pinpoint the exact location of any tower.

The towers, which are always on, can broadcast campus-wide information from police or administrators. These stations are also useful for pedestrian visitors requiring assistance, such as locating a professor’s office. Some towers offer CCTV arms for adding a surveillance camera to gain additional visual data.

Tower stations are available in IP-based models which connect to the campus network and draw power over the Ethernet using CAT- 5e/6 cable. They should be placed so that at least two stations are within view to allow a distressed student the option of choosing the closest unit.

Many campuses offer students a smartphone app to directly connect with the police. The app enables students to submit voice and video messages. Using the same app, a student’s friends and family can track the student’s progress across campus. This is reassuring for late-night walks from the library to a dorm.

However, apps have limitations. Students must download the app and then enroll in the online system. Not all students will do so. Remote campus areas may have weak or no phone coverage. Under ideal conditions, mobile phone tracking is accurate to within a few feet, but accuracy can be affected by weather, cell tower proximity, topography and other factors. A student being chased may not be able to pull a phone from a backpack or pocket to start the app. During a robbery, a smartphone is often the first thing criminals take. A dead battery makes both a phone and the app useless.

Patrolling police officers or security guards are great crime deterrents. Many universities are increasing the number of campus officers and then assigning them to car, bike or foot patrols, especially near dormitories. Security student escort services are also effective. The goal is to accompany any student requesting an escort to cross the campus at night. The service may be the responsibility of the campus police/security or a carefully screened student volunteer organization.

Policies, Procedures and Assessments

Securing a college or university campus is a complex task. There’s no single technology or service capable of handling all campus emergencies. That’s why campuses employ multiple layers of security.

Written policies and procedures also contribute to a more secure campus. Students need instructions and assigned roles to assist in their own security. For example, dorm residents could be asked to report any non-resident not wearing a visitor’s badge while in the building. Resident assistants should be trained to evacuate a dormitory in case of a natural or man-made emergency.

Consider working with an experienced integrator to prepare a thorough risk assessment before adding a new security system. Repeat the process regularly, as security needs will change over time. An assessment serves as a roadmap for improving weaknesses, and helps campuses get the most security from varying budgets.

The pressure on campuses to safely secure their students has never been greater. Federal law now requires campuses to annually report their crime statistics. Students and parents consider these reports an important factor in deciding which college or university to attend. With careful planning and wise spending, it’s possible to make dormitories— and an entire campus—safer and more secure.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Security Today.

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