Campus & community, Campus news

In 2020, campus crime was mostly at or below 2019 levels

However, campus administrators said the numbers did not drop as significantly as one might have expected

Reports of crime on and around UC Berkeley property during 2020 remained mostly at or below prior-year levels, according to data released today by the campus, in compliance with the federal Clery Act.

This includes decreases in the number of reported rapes, robberies, burglaries and motor vehicle thefts, as well as a drop in about a dozen other types of crimes.

However, campus administrators said the numbers did not drop as significantly as one might have expected, considering that the calendar year 2020 was when COVID-19 emerged and, from mid-March on, Berkeley’s operations were largely remote.  In some categories — aggravated assault, arson, domestic violence and statutory rape —  there was an increase in reports.

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act) requires all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose each year information about crime on and near their respective campuses.

Aerial shot of UC Berkeley campus

Reports of crime on and around UC Berkeley property during 2020 remained mostly at or below prior-year levels, according to new data.

Campus Clery Act officials, who reviewed more than 40,000 campus records and 3,200 reports to compile this year’s report, note that, in many cases, the incidents did not occur on the core campus. A main locus was campus-owned People’s Park, which is classified as “on campus” under Clery Act geography, although located several blocks from the campus. More than 50% of the on campus rape and arson reports in 2020 occurred at or near the park  A significant portion of aggravated assault reports, more than 20, also took place at People’s Park or nearby. The vast majority of the reported crimes at or near People’s Park involved individuals not affiliated with the campus.

According to Abigail Ogden, the campus’s director of Clery compliance, crimes in which the victim and perpetrator were both unaffiliated with the campus were not uncommon; the Clery Act requires Berkeley to disclose all crimes occurring within campus geography, regardless of the individuals involved.

The most notable increase in reports that predominantly affected students, Ogden said,  involved domestic violence, reflecting a national increase in such violence during shelter-in-place orders and remote working conditions.  The reported number of Berkeley incidents jumped from an average of 13 for the prior five years to nearly 40 instances in 2020; one offender’s actions can result in multiple counts of incidents. Most of the domestic violence cases reported occurred at University Village, the campus’s family student housing, which is a few miles from campus and occupied year-round.

Under the Clery Act, domestic violence cases may also be counted in the aggravated assault category, meaning that a single incident may be counted in both categories.

Early on, officials with the campus PATH to Care Center had anticipated that the conditions of the pandemic, such as isolation, economic instability and lack of in-person social services, would increase vulnerabilities exploited by abusive partners. As a result, the center stepped up its efforts to raise awareness and to ensure the campus community was aware of the services and support that remained available.

Reports of statutory rape also increased, from zero in most prior years to three instances in 2020. One report included three incidents that occurred in on-campus student housing involving one minor and one adult. It is important to note that Clery Act statistics are recorded for the year the crime was reported to the institution, not necessarily the year in which the crime occurred.

Burglaries were lower in 2020 compared to the prior year, but the 69 instances were higher than the average of 67 for the prior five years. Ogden noted that the increase reflects, in part, strengthened processes that have resulted in increased reporting to the campus Clery Act office.

Similarly, with motor vehicle thefts, there were fewer in 2020 compared to 2019,  but, at 100, the number was much higher than 72,  the average for the prior five years. Strengthening compliance processes contributed to some of the increase. The Clery Act also uses a broad definition of a motor vehicle for this category including golf carts, electric bicycles, electric skateboards, scooters and motorcycles, etc. Approximately 47% of the motor vehicle thefts reported in the Annual Security and Fire Safety Report did not include the theft of a car.

The full set of charts is available in the annual crime report released today. There are a few things to consider when reviewing the report:

  • Crime counts are based on geography defined by the Clery Act.  The  “on campus” category includes Berkeley’s central core campus, People’s Park and residential halls.  The “non-campus” category includes locations of recognized student organizations, like fraternities and sororities, as well as University Village and university-sponsored travel locations. The report also includes “public property,” such as many of the city sidewalks around the campus.
  • The reported crimes reflect the year they were reported to the institution, not necessarily the year they occurred. A report may include a series of incidents going back weeks, months or years; this situation tends to occur in cases involving sexual or intimate partner violence, such as domestic violence.
  • In some categories, one case may lead to multiple incident counts. For most categories, one victim’s report leads to one count in one crime category. However, in some categories, such as domestic violence and aggravated assault, the counts are per victim, per incident. Consequently, one person’s report may involve multiple crime counts.  Likewise, a single incident with multiple victims, such as a hate crime, may result in multiple counts.
  • An actual physical assault does not have to occur for the crime to be listed as an aggravated assault. An individual holding a weapon up to someone, or giving someone a date rape drug, may be counted as aggravated assault.
  • Category definitions are critical. Burglaries are not necessarily “break-ins”: An unlocked room or building can be burglarized. Stalking cases are largely cyber-stalking incidents, and two or more incidents that result in fear or substantial emotional distress are considered.
  • Attempts-to-commit crimes are counted.  Reports of attempts to commit Clery-reportable crimes are included. For example, an attempted motor vehicle theft or attempted burglary would be recorded in the vehicle theft/burglary statistics.

In some instances, Berkeley officials state, a notable increase or decrease in cases may reflect the campus’s increased efforts to strengthen its Clery Act compliance programs. A Clery Act compliance director, along with two staffers in Clery Act liaison positions, have been added within the last few years. They have improved training for individuals who report cases to the Clery Act office and taken action to help ensure that Clery Act regulations are interpreted and applied correctly.

The campus’s Clery Act data comes from law enforcement — mostly UCPD and city of Berkeley police — along with the campus’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination,  student conduct offices and staff and faculty, who are required to report information to the Clery Act office when they learn of Clery Act crimes while acting in their official capacity.

“My office is working to produce the most accurate crime data possible within the scope of the Clery Act, but the goal is more comprehensive,” said Ogden. “The Clery Division helps the university plan ahead and problem-solve before a crisis arises. We foster cooperation across departments, break down the information silos, and communicate with our community in a transparent and proactive way. We focus on the spirit of the law and strive to make safety and security information accessible.”

Ogden encouraged the campus community to become familiar with support services, crime reporting options and other resources on campus.