Penn State

Is Penn State safe? New study ranks university highest in Pa. for violent crime

A new study released by ranks Penn State as the university with the highest violent crime rate in Pennsylvania.

The study considered the violent crime rates of 500 nonprofit colleges, universities, junior colleges and community colleges across the United States with student populations of more than 10,000. It classified violent crime as an on-campus incident of murder, rape, negligent homicide, robbery, aggravated assault or arson.

Penn State clocked in with a violent crime rate of 1.23 per 1,000 people, according to 2017 U.S. Department of Education data. In 2017, there were 37 reports of rape, two reports of robbery, 12 reports of aggravated assault and seven reports of arson on campus. There was one incident of negligent manslaughter reported — the hazing death of Timothy Piazza at the former Beta Theta Pi fraternity house — on what the study labeled “public property.”

Many of these crimes occurred in on-campus housing, including 30 rapes, two robberies, four aggravated assaults and four incidents of arson.

In 2018 — the most recent year of data available — according to Penn State federal Clery Act data, there were 49 reports of rape, three reports of robbery, four reports of aggravated assault, 25 reports of burglary and two reports of arson on campus.

That year, fall enrollment for University Park was 46,270 students, according to a Penn State news release.

The Pennsylvania school with the lowest violent crime rate is Harrisburg Area Community College, said the study, at 0.05 violent crimes per 1,000 people.

“Safety is the No. 1 priority at Penn State and as part of a robust Police and Public Safety program, Penn State has resources and protocols in place to prepare for, investigate and respond in the event of a variety of potential emergency situations on campus — including a full-service police department with sworn police officers who have full law enforcement authority at 22 campuses,” Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said in an email.

All residence halls at Penn State — and other Penn State campuses with on-campus housing — are equipped with a computerized card access system that allows only residents access to their own building, she said.

“University police collaborate across Penn State’s campuses and also work closely with local and federal law enforcement agencies on efforts related to preparation, training, educational efforts, resources and other measures,” she said.

Other safety measures at Penn State include a free Safe Walk program through which a university Police and Public Safety employee escorts students and employees to an on-campus destination between dusk and dawn and emergency phones for anyone needing emergency assistance on campus, she said.

“Additionally, the university provides a free active-attacker training program to all students and employees known as Run, Hide, Fight. Penn State also uses an incident notification system that alerts Penn State students and employees to threats through PSU Alerts and Timely Warnings,” Powers said.

Penn State drew ire from students in January when the university did not issue a PSU Alert during or after a fatal shooting at two off-campus locations. The university said it did not trigger the alert system because the incident was off campus and in a non-Clery reportable location.

Powers said the university established the Penn State Behavioral Threat Management Team several years ago to enhance emergency preparedness and prevention efforts. BTMT “works to systematically identify, evaluate, and manage potentially threatening situations, including individuals who may have exhibited concerning behavior.”

Penn State has a significantly lower violent crime rate than the study’s least safe school in the U.S. — University of Nebraska at Lincoln, with 4.72 violent crimes per 1,000 students.

“Among all universities on this list, rape is by far the most common violent crime reported, and Nebraska’s place as the campus with the highest violent crime rate is driven largely by the 116 rapes that were reported by the Department of Education. No campus had more reported rapes,” the study said.

Penn State employs a “much-used bystander intervention training program” called Stand for State, which “encourages others to intervene and promotes a sense of responsibility for the safety of self and others,” Powers said.

Compared to Penn State, State College has one of the lowest violent crime rates for college towns included in the study. Last year, its violent crime rate was 0.76 per 1,000 people. St. Louis, Missouri, had the highest violent crime rate for a college town with 20.82 per 1,000 people.

Sarah Paez covers Centre County communities, government and town and gown relations for the Centre Daily Times. She studied English and Spanish at Cornell University and grew up outside of Washington, D.C.