Campus crime is spiking to pre-pandemic levels. See your college’s numbers in our data.

 As students returned to college campuses across the United States, so did campus crime, data shows, alarming some parents so much that they hired their own security force.

They raised more than $40,000 to hire private security at the University of California, Berkeley – much to the chagrin of campus administrators.

Half a dozen unarmed guards patrolled the campus for more than two weeks in March, according to Sagar Jethani, a father of two Berkeley sophomores involved in the effort. A month after Jethani dropped off his kids for their freshman year in October 2022, there was a fatal shooting near their dorm.

“This was a real rude awakening,” he told USA TODAY.

Jethani and other parents were concerned that crime across the city of Berkeley seemed on the rise. A February shooting scared some parents, too. No one was injured and a suspect was reportedly taken into custody. 

Hiring private security officers didn't sit well with Berkeley administrators. In a statement to USA TODAY, spokesperson Janet Gilmore said money intended to keep Berkeley students safe would best be spent supporting the school’s police force. 

A privately hired security guard patrols the campus outside a dorm at the University of California, Berkeley, earlier this year.  

“Hiring private security raises several concerns, including the training and experience of individuals hired by such firms,” Gilmore said.

Campus crime rebounds to pre-pandemic levels

The number of crimes reported by college campuses across the country rebounded to pre-pandemic levels in 2022, government data shows. 

Crime reported from nearly 6,000 institutions rose about 8% from 2019, even though enrollments dipped during that timeframe. The jump in offenses between 2019 and 2022 coincided with students’ post-pandemic return en masse to campuses. Compared with year-over-year changes before 2019, the recent spike represents the largest increase since post-secondary institutions that receive federal funding began reporting campus safety statistics.

Experts see little reason to worry and say the numbers are largely consistent with what colleges have been experiencing since 2013, according to S. Daniel Carter, president of the consulting firm Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses.

Following a steady decline starting around 2006, the number of crimes reported by colleges and universities remained pretty stagnant over the last decade, according to government data. Yet when foot traffic on and around campuses diminished in 2020 after classes went online during the pandemic, crime dropped precipitously in 2020. In the years since it has inched up again.

The recent increase was mostly driven by a surge in reported motor vehicle theft, which more than doubled from 2019 and accounted for more than a quarter of offenses in 2022. Carter was skeptical of that spike, saying it could be traced to schools changing their reporting requirements to comply with federal law. 

“There has been some work done to increase awareness that scooters and golf carts are motor vehicles – that could be a factor,” he said.

Government data is not yet available for 2023, so these numbers don’t account for the turmoil on college campuses in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war. Recent surveys show many Muslim and Jewish students reported feeling unsafe on campus since the Oct. 7 attacks, which prompted massive campus clashes and protests, as well as spikes in Islamophobic and antisemitic incidents. 

The reported numbers from 2022 include offenses that occurred on and off campus, including on university properties located elsewhere; offenses that occurred on public property adjacent to campuses, and a small number of offenses reported to institutions by local police.

Students participate in a protest in support of Palestine and for free speech at Columbia University campus on November 14, 2023, in New York City.  

Renewed push to encourage students to report crimes

Colleges and universities that receive federal funding must compile statistics about crimes that occur on or near campus under the Clery Act. The federal law, passed in 1990, was named after 20-year-old Jeanne Clery, a student whose rape and murder at her dorm at Lehigh University drew national attention. 

The tension colleges contend with in simultaneously trying to encourage students to report crimes and keep numbers down was on full display during a recent scandal at Liberty University, a private Evangelical university in Virginia.

The federal government concluded last year that the school created a culture of dissuading victims of sexual assault from reporting what happened to them, according to a preliminary report obtained by USA TODAY. Then, in March, the Education Department slapped the school with a $14 million fine and ordered officials to pay another $2 million for “on-campus safety improvements and compliance enhancements.” In a written statement in March, Dondi E. Costin, Liberty’s president, said the school sincerely regretted the errors. 

The scandal shed light on the consequences schools face if they don’t fully comply with the law, said Abigail Boyer, the associate executive director of the Clery Center, which tracks campus safety trends. 

“Ultimately, we want campuses to create a culture in which students are comfortable about reporting,” she said. 

Hundreds gathered for a vigil Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, after a shooting Sunday evening at the University of Virginia left three dead and two injured.
Hundreds gathered for a vigil on Nov. 14, 2022, after a shooting at the University of Virginia killed three people and injured two.  

Clery Act figures are self-reported, and the Department of Education doesn’t verify them independently. However, the agency conducts periodic reviews of Clery Act compliance. Over the past 15 years, the agency has evaluated at least 110 universities. Dozens of those cases have led to fines.

Do stolen scooters and e-bikes explain the apparent crime spike?

The Clery Act requires schools to report “motor vehicle thefts," but the statute doesn’t only include cars – scooters, electric bicycles, and golf carts fall into the same category. 

Several schools said the spike in crime on or near their campuses in 2022 could be attributed to their revised reporting of the scooter, electric bike, and golf cart theft. In 2022, Grand Canyon University in Arizona began classifying thefts of skateboards, scooters, and bikes under the umbrella of "motor vehicle theft." 

Spokesperson Bob Romantic said the “overwhelming majority” of the school's additional criminal offenses in 2022 were due to that change.

“Beyond that,” he said, “we saw slight increases in some other offenses due mostly to the rapid growth of our campus population, increased crime in the Phoenix area, and the fact that we were still coming out of COVID.” 

David Kelly, spokesperson for the University of Colorado, Denver-Anschutz Medical, said the school has taken steps to combat a spike in motor vehicle thefts, installing more security cameras and deploying officers to monitor parking lots and garages. 

It could be that there are more of these vehicles on campuses as well, according to Bethanie Glover, a spokesperson for the University of Virginia.

“The presence of motor scooters on (grounds) and across the country has increased dramatically, and reports of theft have increased along with them,” she said. 

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