UNC Campus Crime Analysis: Working to Recognize and Reduce


UNC Campus Crime Analysis: Working to Recognize and Reduce

Sierra Lyda
Published by the PIT Journal: 


Universities across the nation constantly strive to create a safe, friendly environment for college students to thrive in, UNC-Chapel Hill being no exception. To try and encourage this environment every year, upcoming first-year students receive a rundown of common campus crimes and safety services during their orientation to give them an idea of the dangers they may face and proper emergency protocol. Despite these measures, campus crime has not completely gone away. My research takes a different approach to understanding why crime still occurs at UNC-Chapel Hill, analyzing the Department of Public Safety’s Crime Log entries over a three month period. The goal was to determine if there were any major trends visible in the data, such as common locations, times, types crime, etc., and  if there were trends present to determine what might be causing them. If there were common factors present that encouraged criminal activity, knowledge of them could lead to their reduction and thus better protection for the students. The data showed trends not only on what weekdays crimes were likely to be committed, but also in common locations where criminal activity was repeatedly reported. Searching for an explanation to these patterns one common factor emerged: the presence of a large number of undergraduate students. With the findings from my research, I make the argument that students who are not well educated about campus crime and safety services are the largest cause of increase in UNC’s crime rate, because their lack of knowledge makes them susceptible to criminals.



I chose to research campus crime because I am an undergraduate student living in Chapel Hill and have witnessed some of the terrible effects crime can have on the students, faculty, and even visitors to the university. I began my research using previously conducted victimization studies at different universities across the US to determine catalysts of crime,  in addition to Chapel Hill’s DOPS’s annual and security reports, crime log, and The Daily Beast College Safety Rankings. I then examined the safety services on campus, learning how they function and what their policies are. The goal was to get an “as complete as possible” look at the crime and safety services specific to UNC Chapel Hill to assist in the analysis of the crime trends on campus over the last few months.

Literature Review

The goal of the project was to identify trends in campus crime at UNC and then determine what their causes were. To do this, common causes or correlations of campus crime needed to be determined. As I analyzed studies from 1978-1999 on victimization and crime catalysts at colleges and universities across the nation, there were several common factors of crime that emerged consistently. While some of the factors correlate directly with actions taken by the universities, most are directly related to students. As my study states, I believe students are the most significant cause of campus crime and they go overlooked in the majority of studies; students are not often seen as the root of the problem or the main cause of campus crime when this is not the case. According to a study conducted by Volkwein, Szelest, and Lizotte in 1995, there are three elements that are “ideal” for crime that converge on college campuses. They are: 1. the presence of motivated offenders, 2. a large number of suitable targets, and 3. the absence of capable guardians (Volkwein, Szelest, and Lizotte, 1995). A second study conducted by Wooldredge, Cullen, and Latessa in the same year cited the same three converging factors as the best model for predicting victims on college campuses (Wooldredge, Cullen, and Latessa, 1995). I noted that two of the three main factors could be interpreted as a direct result of the decisions students make. For example, students walking alone late at night who isolate themselves are considered suitable targets by criminals.  Along those lines, students who do not surround themselves with people that are alert and knowledgeable lack capable guardians.  The students that are more likely to make  decisions along these lines, I argue, are the students who do not know the extent of the threat they face and are as a result are more likely to make poor decisions regarding their personal safety.

According to the aforementioned 1995 study conducted by Wooldredge, Cullen, and Lotessa, the number of students living on campus in residence halls is the strongest correlation with campus crime rates; they are not alone in stating this. Studies by McPheters (1978), Sloan (1992), Volkwein, Szelest, and Lizotte (1995), along with Fernandez and Lizotte (1995) all found that universities with larger numbers of students living on campus have the highest crime rates. Volkwein, Szelest, and Lizotte also found that two year universities, which have the lowest number of students living on campus, also have the lowest crime rates which is consistent with the theory (Volkwein, Szelest, and Lizootte, 1995). Breaking the correlations down even further, Fernandez and Lizotte found that high dorm populations are consistently related to high rates of rape and larceny. At Chapel Hill, a university with a high student population living on campus, larceny is one of the most commonly committed crimes. As for sexual assault, Tables 1, 2, and 3 show that UNC suffers from a fairly high number of sexual assaults, especially compared to nearby universities like NC State and Duke. Their findings support my theory that the students are a major correlate of campus crime. Lack of knowledge about crime and available safety services makes the students more vulnerable, increasing their risk of victimization and thus, crime.

There were several other correlations found relating to campus crime rates that dealt largely with students. The various studies conducted by Sloan, Volkwein, Szelest and Lizotte, Wooldredge, Cullen, and Latessa, all found the percentage of minority students correlated with the crime rate, and nature of crimes committed. Colleges and universities with high percentages of minority students tended to have higher amounts of violent crimes at greater frequency. However, they stated that the correlation was not very significant in the overall crime rate. Sloan found that the ratio of students to full-time officers on campus was a correlate of campus crime. The greater the ratio, the higher the crime rates tended to be. Along those lines, revenue per student was found to be a factor of campus crime rates according to Wooldredge, Cullen, and Latessa. Schools with “wealthy” students tended to have higher crime rates. A study conducted by Fox and Hellman in 1995 found that there was a positive correlation between the number of men and the amount of crime committed at a university.

While all of these correlates differ, they share one common factor: the students. The studies were conducted over a 20 year span of time, but the major correlates of campus crime that were identified remained very consistent as they all involved students. In the past, researchers have focused on what elements around students result in their victimization or crimes. The approach this project takes to interpret trends in crime takes into account the knowledge students do or do not possess as a potential correlate to campus crime. What students know affects their actions, which either increase or decrease their potential for being victimized. As you will see from the data gathered, the trends in campus crime at UNC seem to support the aforementioned notion, with common locations, times, and types of crime all directly linked with high concentrations of undergraduate students.


Tragic shootings, underage drinking, drugs, assaults, vandalism, larceny, and burglary are many of the crimes found at UNC Chapel Hill today. To counter these crimes, UNC has increased campus security, adding more video cameras, more emergency poles, more night-time shuttles, and more safety services like SafeWalk, AlertCarolina, and Rave Guardian to better protect students. Rising freshmen are also given a brief rundown of the campus’ commonly committed crimes and safety services at their orientation to help them protect themselves once they come to live at school. Despite the many measures taken, campus crime has not completely gone away. The question remains: Why is crime still occurring at such high rates? 

Answering why campus crime still occurrs at such high rates at UNC-Chapel Hill is difficult, but very important, because campus crime puts the health and safety of all on campus in jeopardy. It is crucial that students feel safe in their living environment because feeling threatened causes unwarranted stress. While researching the effects of stress associated with crimes on campus, I found it can lead not only to mental health problems, but to physical health problems as well. According to Rosemary Anderson, a writer for the Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, stress activates what is called the “fight or flight” response in the body. The “fight or flight” response is a reaction in the hypothalamus region of the brain that releases adrenaline and cortisol into the blood stream. The subconscious mind causes an involuntary reaction that results in elevated heart rate, breathing, and increased muscular tension among other symptoms. If an individual experiencing these symptoms does not find a healthy outlet for their body’s response, like exercise or deep breathing, it can lead to a lowered immune system, negative thought patterns, and an inability to sleep. Just imagine the potential effects these symptoms could have on a student’s academic performance; it is reason enough to give researching campus crime and safety a second thought.

In Context at Chapel Hill

To get the full picture of UNC’s campus crime and understand the data, the setting for campus crime and safety services at Chapel Hill have to be understood, starting with the laws in place concerning crime disclosure at UNC. In 1992, the federal Campus Security Act was passed, requiring over 2,222 of the nation’s major universities to annually provide students, faculty, and staff with their crime statistics for the three previous years, as well as a description of security procedures on campus (M. Garvey.) This means records on campus crime that were previously closed at UNC-Chapel Hill are now available to be studied and examined. The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act [20 U.S.C. 1092(f)] is a second law that requires all colleges and universities to create and publicize an annual report on campus crime statistics and the school’s security policies. With the crime statistics of most universities opened to the public, comparisons were made between schools and their crime rates, creating national lists and rankings. According to one such ranking determined by the news website The Daily Beast, Chapel Hill stood 257th in the nation’s college safety rankings, rankings that ran inversely from most to least dangerous, that were compiled from 2006-2009’s criminal activities in nine different categories of crime, better than both Duke and NC State University (Refer to tables 1, 2 & 3). Interestingly enough, UNC had the highest number of forcible rape between the three universities with 26 versus 14 and 17 at the other two universities, only five less than the other two schools combined. Tables 9 and 10 show the data compiled in UNC’s Department of Public Safety’s Annual and Security Reports. The tables cover most major categories of crime that occurred at Chapel Hill for the past 5-6 years broken down.

The DOPS’s crime log for the months of January, February, and March were the primary focus of research, consisting of a combined 306 entries into the crime log. The 306 entries were put into a database, separated, and then analyzed based on times of occurrence, location, type of crime, and discrepancies between dates reported and dates of occurrence. Using the organized data, I was able to create tables to clearly display commonalities, beginning with Table 4. Table 4 shows the frequency of crime based on the weekday and was formed by adding together every criminal incident that occurred on a given weekday for each month. January, February, and March showed peaks in criminal activity on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. However March showed a huge spike in criminal activity on Saturdays, something the other two months did not show in their trends. A potential explanation for this may be that January and February are colder, winter months making  both potential victims and criminals less likely to be out on the weekend. The lack of significant spikes in crime over the whole weekend (Saturday and Sunday) was surprising at first, until compared with the catalysts of campus crime. During the school week thousands of students are out, but over the weekends many go home or leave campus resulting in a lower student population and fewer potential victims.

Table 5 showed the total amount of crimes committed in each hour of the day from the three months combined. Again trends seen in the numbers might be considered surprising because, where most would expect large spikes in crime to be in the early morning hours, the most common times were committed were during the day, beginning at about 8:00AM. Looking at this from the theory that the more students there are, the more likely criminal activity is going to occur, would offer an explanation. During the majority of the week, classes begin at 8:00AM, increasing the number of students on campus. The spike in reported criminal incidents remains fairly high until about 10:30AM, when it drops significantly until about 2:00PM. The numbers might sound familiar  to someone who well acquainted withthe on campus dining hall hours. The lunch period for UNC’s dining halls begins at 11:00AM and ends at 2:00PM. Students eat lunch during this time, taking them off of the campus and reducing the population of students and, consequently, potential victims. The number of crimes committed per hour rises after 2:00PM and then falls again at about 4:00PM, around the same time as the dining halls re-open for dinner, remaining fairly low until about 5:00PM when it gradually begins to rise. In the hour following 6:00PM the highest spike of criminal activity occurs based on the three months of data. Consider that these are winter months and the sun begins setting around 5:30PM. With less light and a fairly high number of students out, the setting for campus crime is ideal. There is a fair drop in the number of reported crimes from 7:00PM to 8:00PM, consistent with people travelling back from dinner to their dormitories or to their friend’s room to get ready for going out that night. There is an additional drop in criminal activity from 8:00PM to 10:00PM, which might be explained by the tradition of pre-gaming. Most students who plan on going out to a party spend this period of time in their dorm rooms spending time with close friends and getting ready for the night’s activities, decreasing the number of students out and about. Consistent with this theory, there is another rise in reported crime from 11:00PM to 12:00AM, about the time that most students make their way across campus to the event they plan on attending. The number of reported criminal incidents drops for the next two hours, when the majority of students are at parties or social events, but then rises from 1:00AM to 2:00AM, around the time that most students decide to return to their dorm rooms. Though these claims are not true for all students, they follow the general undergraduate social schedule with relative consistency.

Table 6 is devoted to showing discrepancies between the dates on which crimes were reported and the days on which they occurred. Of the 306 entries into the DOPS crime log, about 35% crimes were not reported on the date that they occurred (equivalent to 106 crimes.) 76 of the 106 crimes were reported within one week,  88 of the 106 in two weeks, and 91 of the 106 crimes in three weeks. There were 11 crimes that were not reported within a month of the date that they occurred. While it requires some time to file charges and reports, taking over a month seems a bit extreme. There is  no single clear explanation I can offer as to why so many crimes are not reported on the day they occur .  . Perhaps victims are afraid of being stigmatized, or they are unaware of what steps to take in order to report the crime. Due to time constraints, I was unable to research the possible causes of discrepancies between the dates crimes occur and the dates that they are reported.

Table 7 shows all of the locations on campus that had two or more crimes occur at them from the 306 DOPS crime log entries. Given the large size of UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus, it seemed unlikely that there would be many repeatedly mentioned locations. However, my research found 75% of the 306 entries, (230 crimes) took place at only 68 different locations. 54 of the crimes in the table took place in residence halls where there are large concentrations of students. As I previously stated, the more students that are present, the more potential victims there are for criminal activity. Similarly, common areas that large numbers of students frequent, like dining halls, gyms, libraries, and the student store make up 47 of the crimes listed in the table, further supporting the theory. Parking decks accounted for the third highest amount of locations with repeated criminal activity, consisting of 28 entries together. Parking decks typically have poor lighting, are visually cut off from high-traffic streets, and have hundreds of spaces between cars where people can hide, which possibly explains for their large contribution to the crime log.

Table 8 was the last compilation of data I created using the DOPS crime log, which was designed to breakdown what types of crime were most commonly committed at UNC. The pie chart shows how much each category of crime contributes to the total 306 entries of the DOPS. There are 3 categories of crime that stand out from the data in regards to frequency: larceny, damage to public or personal property, and suspicious conditions or persons. Out of 306 entries, there were 79 counts of larceny, 79 counts of damage to public or personal property, and 44 counts of suspicious conditions or persons. Together the three categories alone make up 202 of the 306 reported crimes for the months of January, February, and March or just over half of the crime log. A common factor between the aforementioned categories is the presence and involvement of students. I spoke with a few undergraduates who had their property stolen while on campus, and each told me that they left their things unattended for a few minutes because they assumed no one would take it and were unaware that larceny is the most commonly committed crime at UNC. Along the same lines many students who had their property damaged had left it somewhere assuming it would be safe when that was not the case. Their lack of knowledge concerning their surroundings led to poor decisions.


Despite the addition of video cameras, emergency poles, campus security guards, shuttles to the dormitories, mobile device safety services like Rave Guardian, SafeWalk, Smart 911, and AlertCarolina, UNC is still suffering from campus crime. While UNC has done a great job developing services tailored to promoting safety for undergraduate students, there is room for improvement. The data shows that the greatest catalyst for campus crime is the presence of a large number of students, the majority of which do not know enough about campus crime to make wise decisions concerning their safety. The fact of the matter is that UNC-Chapel Hill has many great services, but a large portion of the undergraduate student population does not know about them because there is a lack of advertising and availability of the information. Students can hear about safety services from the on campus, student-produced newspaper The Daily Tarheel, friends, fliers, emails, The Student `Government’s website, or the DOPS’s website, but most do not. Spending additional time besides the short presentation at freshmen orientations to teach incoming students about campus crime and safety services would increase their knowledge of what is available and ease the negative stigma associated with calling for help. The addition of clearly seen bulletin boards with the contact information for safety services or fliers inside campus restrooms would also increase awareness. Educating students to a greater extent would lead to a lowered crime rate and decrease the likelihood of students becoming victims, because they would know what crimes are prevalent and how to avoid them. After all, it is hard to dodge a blow that you do not know is coming.


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About the Author(s)
Sierra Lyda