The publicity surrounding both reports, along with a separate crime spike last fall, have prompted a soul-searching on how to shake long-standing perceptions and realities about crime and safety on a campus in the heart of a big city.
The discussion began when the campus was already shaken by a financial crisis
at Howard, first revealed in June, that led to layoffs and sparked a debate about the school’s future.
“Having a safe environment is essential,” Howard’s president, Sidney A. Ribeau, said in a recent interview. “If people are worried about crime, they cannot learn.”
Ribeau and other officials have sought to boost campus security in time for the fall semester. He said that freshmen, who will begin moving into dorms Saturday, will be counseled about their environment soon after their arrival. Students will also be greeted by guards posted at dormitories, and they will be offered 24-hour shuttle service to off-campus apartments and other buildings in the historic Shaw neighborhood.
In addition, undercover D.C. police officers will patrol the campus in increasing numbers.
“The officers are being told to be more observant, that their job is even harder now,” said Cedric Scott, an 11-year veteran of the Howard University police force and vice president of the Metropolitan Campus Police Officers Union. “We don’t want to be in a position where something happens and we aren’t where we’re supposed to be.”
Howard leads most other schools in the District in both on- and off-campus street robberies, which often target students carrying book bags, computers and smartphones.
But in other ways, Howard compares favorably with the other urban campuses of Washington. The university reported 20 sexual assaults on and off campus between 2009 and 2011, the latest years available.
Georgetown University reported 26 sexual assaults on and off campus over those three years. George Washington University reported 56.
Howard officials also point to statistics that show a dramatic drop in campus crime over a five-year period. There were 47 robberies in 2008 and 15 last year. There were 29 in 2010 and five in 2011.
They also say the recent financial turmoil has not affected public safety. Howard University Police Chief Leroy K. James said the budget issues that forced the elimination of 73 university staff members spared his 211-member force.
James said 15 officers were recently hired and an additional five are about to join. Officials said the public-safety budget has risen from $10 million to $11 million, not including several million to improve technology, such as key-card access to buildings and surveillance cameras.