College Crime Stats Serve As Journalistic Cautionary Tale

By Jean-Paul Salamanca

A recent article published in Cincinnati.com takes a look at the crimes reported at the University of Cincinnati and what students think/feel regarding safety on campus.

The statistics there focus on crimes that are committed on campus, and at a glance, the stats tell a troubling picture. Nine of the 18 types of crimes that are included in UC’s annual crime and fire safety report have seen upticks, the report states. Burglaries have spiked from 6 in 2013 to 41 the following year—nearly seven times higher year-to-year—while the number of sex offenses rose from 3 to 10 in that same time span and drug-related crimes rose from 23 to 64. However, the article also points out several key flaws that go into just going by the stats alone.

For example, longtime Cincinnati police commander James Whalen, notes that the university hired nearly three dozen new police officers since April 2013, which he says can be one reason why there is a spike in the number of crime incidents on campus.

That could be true upon further examination. More police mean more reports and possibly arrests, as that added personnel would need to be actively responding and reacting to crimes, which could skew the numbers higher.

Another possible outlier brought up by campus officials is that the annual crime report saw spikes in sexual assaults. Officials at the school make a point to show that there have been more offices on campus educating students on what constitutes a sex crime.  That can be a big factor in affecting those reports; more education means more knowledge on the subject and with that comes a better likelihood that students develop a comfort zone to report such crimes.

It’s tempting to want to go to town when you have shocking statistics on crime in journalism stories, but as this story illustrates, it’s always best to err on the side of caution before using a strange skew of numbers to run to the presses with blindly.

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