Violent crime on campus

While the percentage of increase in violent crime on South Carolina's college campuses might seem alarming, it hardly represents an epidemic. Nonetheless, college officials can't afford to take any such increase lightly.

According to FBI figures released last week, the rate of violent crime at the state's colleges and universities rose by 31 percent in 2006. Campus property crimes decreased.

While a 31 percent increase is significant, the actual numbers seem somewhat less so. During 2006, 104 violent crimes were reported compared with just 79 in 2005. Violent crimes include murder, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

We can take some comfort in the fact that, despite thousands of students of a volatile age living in close quarters on the state's campuses, only 104 violent incidents were reported, none of them homicides. However, the rate of violent crime on campus far exceeds that for the state as a whole and the national average.

Some observers cite the influence of student violence such as the Columbine shootings and this year's massacre at Virginia Tech. While Columbine happened years ago and the Virginia Tech shootings occurred after these statistics were compiled, perhaps knowledge of the possibility of such incidents has affected the statistics.

As Howard Cook, president of the South Carolina Campus Law Enforcement Association, noted, students may be reporting incidents they once might have simply ignored. Students, for example, may believe that reporting a fist-fight now could prevent more serious violence later.

Winthrop University had seven instances of violent crime reported in 2006, compared to only two in 2005. Even with the increase, though, the numbers remain small. Winthrop has made commendable efforts after the Virginia Tech shootings to counsel students in ways to stay safe on campus and to improve its security and warning systems in the event an incident does occur.

While colleges and universities must discourage any acts of malicious violence, they are unlikely to succeed in eradicating all violence. The best we can hope is that the numbers will remain small.

Colleges and universities must do what they can to prevent violence on campus.