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Why UCLA Is Not The "Most Dangerous" College In America

Aerial shot of UCLA (Photo by G.J. Winterboer via the LAist Featured Photos pool)
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USC fans licking their wounds after last Saturday's loss were given some ammunition against their crosstown rivals this week in the form of a national campus safety survey. Business Insider said FBI data showed that UCLA was the "Most Dangerous" College in America. USC, on the other hand, was nowhere to be found on the magazine's Top 25 "Most Dangerous" list.

We're guessing that even the most diehard Trojan fans wouldn't have guessed that the Westwood campus would have bested them here. (And for good reason: unfortunately, there have been some awful, high-profile crimes affecting USC students in the last year, even if they wouldn't be included in a survey like this that covered up to 2011. Two grad students from China were killed this spring in a botched robbery off-campus. Last September two USC students were shot at an off-campus party. And this Halloween there was a shooting on campus at a party with a few hundred students in attendance.) So how did UCLA end up topping the list? It appears that sloppy methodology is the culprit.

For starters, it appears that the survey of "colleges in America" relied on FBI numbers that didn't even take into account private colleges at all. (That's right, USC, you weren't even a contender!) City News Service reports that Business Insider used data that only included public universities, although the magazine doesn't explain this and says only that it ranked schools with enrollments over 10,000, and it averaged FBI data from 2008 until 2011.

UCLA takes issue with the way that magazine crunched the data, too. The magazine didn't distinguish between crime that happened on and off campus. Business Insider counted all the crime reports that went through the UCLA police, whose jurisdiction includes homes and businesses in West Los Angeles that have little or nothing to do with students or the university. The crime reports also included data from two major medical centers run by the university, health clinics and off-campus housing. Business Insider admits this is a flaw, but it didn't take any pains to correct its data or even let readers know which campuses this affects.

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But campus safety experts say the biggest problem with a list like this is that it actually punishes schools that are making campus safety a priority. Campus Safety Magazine writes that relatively higher crime stats on a college campus signal that a university is doing a good job reaching out to crime victims:

Usually, when people who are not familiar with law enforcement look at crime statistics, they assume that the institutions with the greater number of incidents reported are less safe than the institutions that have a lower number of crimes reported. They don’t understand that when crime stats are higher, it often means the campus in question is realistically dealing with its crime problem and is dedicated to transparency. In essence, more reports of crime very often mean members of the campus community are better informed about threats to their safety. When they have this knowledge, they are more likely to take the steps necessary to protect themselves. Also, if they are confident that their reports of incidents will be taken seriously by campus police and the institution as a whole, they will more likely come forward and make a report if they become a victim of a crime. For example, campuses that do a good job of reaching out to victims of sexual assault usually have higher rates of sexual assaults reported. This greater number of reports actually means that victims feel more confident in their campus' handling of of this type of crime. Considering that about 20% of women will experience a sexual assault at some point during their college careers, wouldn’t you rather have your daughter attend a school that addresses issues like sexual assault than let her suffer in silence because the campus is unwilling to acknowledge the problem for fear of being mentioned on a list like "25 Most Dangerous Colleges in America?"

Business Insider republished some of the criticisms of the survey from both UCLA and UC Riverside, which was listed at #24 on the list. But the magazine said it stood by its list: "As you can see, this is a controversial list, but we think it offers a useful perspective on crime on and near campuses."
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