Officials spar over crime rate at UH
UH-Manoa officials are criticized for the campus' high rate of crime
University of Hawaii at Manoa administrators insist the crime at the campus is not that bad, despite statistics that show the state's flagship university has the highest crime rate among its peer institutions.
But UH-Manoa professor and crime researcher Meda Chesney-Lind says administrators should focus on reducing crime rather than denying the problem.
Chesney-Lind said the campus is mostly safe. Violent crime does not appear to be much of a problem.
But burglaries are pushing crime statistics higher.
Chesney-Lind said State Auditor Marion Higa is correct in comparing UH-Manoa to similar-sized campuses and agreed that UH-Manoa has the highest crime rate -- 5.45 crimes per thousand students -- among its peers.
UH interim Chancellor Denise Konan questioned whether it was appropriate to compare UH-Manoa with campuses that are not in big cities.
However, several of the schools on the crime list are in similar or larger metropolitan areas.
Konan said the committees at the university are working on plans to improve safety on campus.
A project to improve lighting on campus is being put out to bid and should be completed next year. Other lighting projects should be completed in 2009.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jonathon Button fell victim to theft at his Hale Wainani dormitory at the University of Hawaii-Manoa when the door to his apartment didn't close all the way, allowing a thief to enter and steal his laptop computer and other items. He now has a new computer and locks it to his desk. CLICK FOR LARGE
Is UH safe?
AS HE rushed for class, one of Jonathon Button's roommates forgot to close the door to his Hale Wainani fifth-floor apartment.
Someone walked into the room and grabbed Button's laptop computer, his watch, his roommate's computer and a backpack containing car keys and some personal information.
Later that night, his roommate's brother noticed someone trying to break into cars at their family home in Mililani. The thieves also tried to steal a car at their grandmother's house, Button said.
State Auditor Marion Higa, citing U.S. Department of Education statistics, says the University of Hawaii-Manoa has the highest crime rate among its peer group of universities.
"It sucks. It really sucks," Button said. "I'm part of it (crime statistics)."
University administrators insist Higa's statistics are not a fair comparison and say the campus is as safe as similar campuses in urban areas.
"As we look at it, we are on average with everybody else," said Neal Sakamoto, UH-Manoa's chief of campus security.
Sakamoto said UH-Manoa's crime rate isn't out of line with crime rates at universities in urban areas like Los Angeles/Long Beach, Calif., and Washington, D.C.
But Meda Chesney-Lind, a UH-Manoa professor who has researched crime and crime statistics, said university administrators should face up to the crime problem on campus.
"We've got a problem here and we should look at it," Chesney-Lind said.
The campus is safe -- violent crimes are not alarmingly high, she said. However, property crimes are pushing UH-Manoa's crime statistics above its peers.
In an audit on student housing last month, Higa said a review of crime statistics shows "crime occurs quite frequently on campus and in the dormitories."
The audit noted that UH-Manoa averaged 5.45 crimes per thousand students between 2003 and 2005, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics.
Burglary was by far the most widespread crime on campus, according to the statistics.
IN A WRITTEN response to Higa's audit last month, UH interim Chancellor Denise Konan questioned whether it was appropriate to compare UH-Manoa with campuses that are not in big cities, even if they have a similar number of students.
"We compare ourselves against these institutions all the time, so it's not like they made this list up," Chesney-Lind said.
She also noted that some of the peer universities are in similar-sized or much bigger metropolitan areas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Also, the crime statistics don't necessarily show a correlation between the size of the nearest city and crime on campus, said Chesney-Lind, who teaches women's studies.
Honolulu police said they responded to 230 incidents in UH-Manoa residence halls in 2005. The incidents included arguments, assaults, burglary, disorderly conduct, drugs, theft, rape, sexual assault and trespassing.
Police were called more often to the university's two apartment complexes, Hale Noelani and Hale Wainani, than to other residence halls on campuses, the auditor said.
The auditor's report notes that a survey conducted in November 2005 showed 46 percent of students did not feel safe on campus, but another survey taken last year shows most dorm residents do feel safe in their rooms.
"There's keys for everything," said Hale Aloha resident Michelle Toy, who said she feels safe in the freshman dorms.
Toy said she has to pass the attendant at the front desk and use a key to get into the elevator before she can unlock the door to her room.
The survey showed fewer students living in Hale Noelani and Johnson Hall were satisfied with security.
Hale Noelani resident Ashley Schumann said she feels safe at the dorms. However, she said she's heard of property thefts in the student apartment complex.
"We always keep our doors locked," she said, but she added that it is easy to break in to the louvered windows. Whenever her roommate forgets her key, she's still able to unlock the door, Schumann said.
Students also expressed dissatisfaction with support from security officers, hired security guards and housing staff in emergency situations.
In her response to the audit, Konan wrote that improvements are being made to safety and security on campus, including hiring additional staff and improved lighting on walkways.
Criminals do target the university looking to steal mo-peds and bicycles, Sakamoto said. However, other property offenses are crimes of opportunity, he said, the result of students leaving doors unlocked or belongings unsecured.
Campus security is hoping to reduce property crime rates by educating students about being careful with their belongings and through stepped-up patrols and enforcement, Sakamoto said.
THE UNIVERSITY recently conducted its first undercover sting operation on campus with Honolulu police targeting mo-ped thieves. Sakamoto said more undercover operations are being planned.
A key recommendation in the auditor's report is that the state Legislature give campus security officers the power to arrest suspects and carry weapons. However, that proposal needs further study, Konan and Sakamoto said.
Konan said there may be an additional cost to giving officers arrest powers and firearms, including additional training and arrangements to hold prisoners and investigate and prosecute cases.
She also said a university committee is working on a plan to keep trees and shrubs trimmed and replace burned-out light bulbs on campus.
One project to improve lighting on campus is being put out to bid and should be completed by fall 2008. Another lighting project for walkways, roadways, parking lots and grassy areas on campus should be completed in 2009.
"It's a safe campus. I never feel in danger or anything like that. It's just people steal stuff," Button said. "Tell everyone to lock their doors and windows on campus. It could be them. They could be next."