Blog site ranks college safety

Thursday, September 16, 2010 | 5:18 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — According to blog site The Daily Beast's college safety rankings, Washington University in St. Louis is the 13th most dangerous university campus in America.

Out of the 458 schools ranked, MU came in at 226.

Clark Merrefield, a reporter for The Daily Beast who co-authored the report, said he used data from the U.S. Department of Education to compile the criminal offenses that occurred on each campus. Merrefield said he included reports from 2006 to 2008 in his findings. His results were also adjusted to normalize varying enrollment sizes. 

Merrefield said he consulted safety experts to allot a "subjective" point value for each crime, setting burglaries as a baseline and murders as the most serious offense.

"It's sort of hard to say how much worse is a murder than being robbed," he said.

The school with the most points would thus be be considered the most dangerous. Tufts University in Boston takes the top spot this year, according to Merrefield's report.

MU Police Capt. Brian Weimer said the university has placed additional officers, emergency phones and surveillance cameras on campus in the past few years. Weimer said he feels MU is up to speed with its peers in terms of campus safety.

The MU Police Department has not seen The Beast's report, Weimer said, but it has seen the crime statistics Merrefield got from the Department of Education. The police department submitted MU's crime statistics to the Department of Education, as all U.S. colleges who participate in federal financial aid programs are required to do under the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990, also known as the Clery Act.

Merrefield said a school's location played a large role in its safety rankings, with colleges in an urban setting, such as Washington University, having a higher crime rate.

'"I think the biggest thing is geography," he said. "Safer schools tend not to be in urban areas."

Merrefield said incidents of rape were not factored into a school's total score, but were still recorded in the report. Merrefield said rape was "a sticky data point." Some schools do a better job of encouraging students to report rapes than others, so it is likely that not all rapes are reported, he said.

Robin Hattersley Gray, executive editor of Campus Safety Magazine, said if a campus has a particularly high number of reported rapes, it might mean the school is actually providing students with a secure environment to come forward.

"It doesn't mean they're doing a bad job," Hattersley Gray said. "It could mean that they aren't in denial, or that their reporting policies are accessible to students. In that case, a higher rating would be a good thing."

Hattersley Gray said many news outlets are "hesitant" to produce similar lists ranking universities as they are "almost impossible" to compile.

"It's really comparing apples to oranges," Hattersley Gray said. "Every campus is different."

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