WASHINGTON – Many of Maryland’s four-year colleges sit in unsafe communities, according to a new national study that state college officials immediately attacked as irrelevant.
Two Baltimore schools — Coppin State and Sojourner-Douglass — were listed among the 25 most-dangerous neighborhoods of the 1,497 colleges in the country. The study, released Tuesday by APBnews.com and CAP Index, also said Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg was situated in one of the safest communities in the nation.
The study rated 25 of the 33 private and public four-year colleges listed in the state by the Maryland Higher Education Commission. Of those 25, the study said 15 were in neighborhoods that ranked above average for the likelihood of violent crime.
Officials at the “highest-risk” colleges attacked the study, saying what happens on campus and what happens in surrounding neighborhoods are two different things.
“I think the study is ridiculous,” said Herbert Singleton, special assistant to the president of Sojourner-Douglass. “These institutions are urban institutions. We have urban problems.”
Ronald Collins, Coppin’s director of public safety, agreed.
“How can you possibly develop a safety factor if you’re not going to take into account the history of the college?” Collins said. “My estimate was that Coppin should not have been there (on the list). I put very little weight in their survey.”
Authors of the report agreed that just because a college is located in an area that is rated at the “highest-risk” for violent crime does not mean the campus itself is unsafe. But they said their study still provides valuable information when considering a college.
“You want to use this information as one item so you can ask better questions,” said Karl Idsvoog, senior producer at APBnews.com. “Use the information and go to that university and find out what are they doing to safeguard students and faculty.”
The report focused on the risk of violent crime in the communities surrounding the colleges. In an article accompanying its report, APBnews said it conducted the study because the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports are more than a year old when they are released and crime statistics gathered by colleges are often criticized as unreliable.
In addition to ranking the colleges, the study gave each a score for the potential risk of violent crime in their neighborhoods on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest-risk.
Sojourner-Douglass’ neighborhood was ranked as 16th-most dangerous in the nation and Coppin’s ranked 21st-highest. Both schools got scores of 10 for the potential for violent crime in the area.
Both Sojourner-Douglass and Coppin offer campus security to the students. Coppin, with about 3,800 students, has 13 full-time campus police officers and provides an escort service when officers are available. Sojourner-Douglass, whose entire campus consists of one building, also provides security to its 1,200 students.
The report can be misinterpreted, according to Security on Campus Inc., a non-profit organization in King Of Prussia, Pa.
“Of course schools can’t really do much about the neighborhood that surrounds them,” said Howard Clery III, treasurer for Security on Campus Inc. “It’s misleading in the sense that just because they’re in a bad neighborhood doesn’t mean they’re doing a bad job.”
Mount St. Mary’s officials conceded that much of the relative safety on their campus can be attributed to their location in rural Emmitsburg.
“We’re happy to hear it,” said Frank Buhrman, Mount St. Mary’s director of public relations. “Fortunately for us, we’re in an area that is growing nicely and benefiting from its proximity to Baltimore and Washington, D.C., while … being far enough away that we are able to avoid some of the problems than a school in a less-fortunate location.”
To ensure student’s safety, the college closes “less critical” entrances of the campus at night and the main entrance to the campus is near the public safety office, which provides 24-hour security, Buhrman said.
APBnews.com is a Website geared to criminal justice issues and the Crime Against Persons Index is a private firm that provides neighborhood crime-risk assessments, according to information on the site. Their national study, which they plan to update every year, is the first step in providing the public with accurate information about college safety, Idsvoog said.
“Crime data sitting in a computer somewhere doesn’t do anybody any good,” he said. “We think this is very valuable, worthwhile information.”