Hofstra University–like all other United States colleges and universities with federally-funded financial student aid programs – is required to release an Annual Security Report of crime statistics. According to the Campus Security Act passed in 1991, such universities must release “statistics concerning the occurrence [of crime] on campus, on non-campus buildings or property, and in public property during the most recent calendar year, and during the two preceding calendar years for which data are available.”
The report is accessible on a university’s website, and also provides a definition of specific offenses such as forcible sodomy, a forcible sex offense, and statutory rape, a non-forcible sex offense. Hofstra’s 2012 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report indicated that in 2011 alone, there were seven forcible sex offenses reported on campus, in addition to six burglaries. The report shows that in 2010, there were five on-campus forcible sex offenses, while in 2009, there were four. Nine burglaries occurred in 2010, while just six occurred in 2009.
In comparison to some other Long Island educational institutions, like Long Island University’s Brooklyn branch, these statistics may seem high. Crime statistics for the Brooklyn branch, for example, record only one forcible sex offense since 2009, and only three burglaries. However, LIU Brooklyn has a smaller student population that Hofstra, a figure close to 7,000 students, while Hofstra’s skirts more around 11,000.
Hofstra might be considered a medium-sized university. Schools like SUNY’s Stony Brook are larger, and perhaps more liable towards a higher occurrence of crimes. At Stony Brook, for example, where there are more than 20,000 students, there were 25 forcible sex offenses from 2009 through 2011 alone, and over 300 burglaries.
In general, students’ perceptions of safety on campus here at Hofstra are mixed. A number of students are international students from places as diverse as Nigeria or China, and have said that they do not have much to compare the safety of the university with.
One student however, Physician’s Assistant program sophomore, Danniya Samuel, is a native New Yorker, and thought that safety on campus was a matter of personal responsibility. “If you’re smart about it, it’s good,” she said. At the same time, she noted, that more lights on campus would be useful. “It’s really dark and really deserted around here at night.”
The annual security report also lists the number of crimes that occurred on public property near Hofstra University, such as on streets within university boundaries, and it includes statistics on a number of other categories, such as murder, aggravated assault, motor vehicle theft, robbery and arson. There are seven listed categories in total, the distinctions mandated by the Campus Security Act, which was renamed the Jeanne Clery Act in 1998 in memorial of the 19-year-old Lehigh University student that was raped and murdered in her dorm in 1986.
The Public Safety Department, in compliance with the Clery Act’s mandate to “immediately notify the campus community upon notification of a significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat to the health or safety of students and staff…,” sends out messages through the Campus Alert Notification Network, also known as CANN. Local Safety Bulletins are also sent out, although these items are considered less serious in nature.
“CANNS encompass everybody connected at the university,” John C. O’Malley, Associate Director of Public Safety here at Hofstra said. “The safety bulletins are geared primarily at the students who may be here at nighttime or during the evening. We make a determination [on which to send] based on the proximity to the campus that something may occur and who may be jeopardized at the time.”
Many faculty members even opt out of receiving Locals Safety Bulletins. “Generally when we put out a safety bulletin, it’s something that occurs after normal business hours or throughout the night. If it occurs during the day, we put it out to everybody. Then it becomes a CANN.” O’Malley explained why the department switched to using local safety bulletins, which are posted on online to inform the university community, following a local or on-campus crime. “We used to put out a CANN and we were getting a lot of complaints from people about being woke up in the night or disturbed because of the CANNs – the phone calls and texting and such,” O’Malley continued, referring to the opt-out option that Hofstra faculty now have.
The fact that Hofstra is located in Nassau County’s Hempstead village is often a source of dissatisfaction to students, because of its seemingly negative crime rate and reputation as a suburban ghetto. Hempstead was even rated as number seven on the Princeton Review’s Top Ten list of worst college towns (in 2012).
“Hempstead isn't a good area,” May 2012 Music Education graduate, Ricky Enderle, noted in an e-mail. "It's not safe and shouldn't be a place where a young man or woman walks around alone. I, personally, wouldn't walk off of campus in that direction alone unless it was some sort of emergency.”
Yet, according to City-Data.com, the amount of crime in Hempstead is expected to decline through 2013. The village’s crime rating for 2011 was 353.5, an index that – although higher than the United States average of 306.2 – is still relatively average. For the same year, New York’s crime index was 254.3, Boston’s 379.9, Philadelphia’s 579.6 and Detroit’s was 1026.0.
Vice President for Student Affairs, Sandra Johnson, noted that a key aspect of personal safety actually has a lot to do with an individual’s own behavior.
“Phones can distract us,” Johnson said. “Reading or texting while walking,” she continued, sometimes result in a decreased awareness of one’s surroundings.
Petra Halbur, Journalism sophomore, said that in general, she feels safe on campus and that, although she doesn’t make frequent trips into the heart of the village, she doesn’t necessarily see Hempstead as a ‘bad’ location for a college.
“The clubs are sleazy, so if the clubs are a reflection of the town, I’d say yes. But I realize clubs are not necessarily a town’s most flattering features.”
Like Johnson, O’Malley saw Hempstead’s reputation as partly dependent on students’ upbringings. “It’s all relative to what your background is … where you’re from and what you’re used to,” O’Malley said. “People that come from different parts of the United States – they may have one or two robberies in two years’ time, and then there’s parts … that may have twenty robberies per year.”
Johnson mentioned by e-mail the methods of crime prevention that are taken here at Hofstra. For instance, the university maintains outdoor lighting on campus that is in accordance with safety standards of effective visibility at night.
“Our Public Safety and Facilities Departments conducts lighting audits on a regular basis. The outcomes vary depending on the findings and most often include new lights, change in wattage, and cutting back trees.”
After what turned out to be a false report of in-campus rape in 2009, a firm came in to complete what O’Malley termed a “complete study of public safety and the university." Johnson also noted that findings resulting from a 2010 outside consultant's audit of the campus showed that campus lighting levels “were at, or above, standards suggested by established professional agencies.”
O’Malley, speaking of Hofstra’s Public Safety officers and their performance as Hofstra representatives, said “the men and women – they go above and beyond what’s required of them.”
Enderle, a resident of Hicksville, noted in an e-mail that he never actually lived on campus, so his “interaction with Public Safety was pretty limited,” although his car did get broken into once and he lost some money. “They eventually caught the kids,” he noted. “I never got my eight dollars back though.”
Halbur speculated that she’d certainly be more concerned if violence and crime was a daily occurrence on campus or in close proximity: “If the campus was full of bloody knives and gunshots, I’d act accordingly.”