Winter break saw a drop in some Manhattan crime rates as cases of motor vehicle burglary, alcohol violations and traffic incidents all fell during the month-long vacation from school.
After applying a 5-mile buffer on Manhattan, Raids Online, a website that receives data directly from the Riley County Police Department, shows that between Nov. 18 and Dec. 18, 2015, there were 50 burglaries from motor vehicles, and between Dec. 19, 2015 and Jan. 19, 2016, there were 19. Alcohol violations dropped from 32 to 12, and traffic incidents fell from 109 to 74 during the same periods.
“With college students, you hear, ‘The thefts are going to go up because college students are back,'” Mat Droge, RCPD public information officer, said. “And the perception is college students come to town and commit crime … what I would guess is actually going on is college students come to town, and we have more victims available.”
Theft and most other crime rates were comparable for the month of winter break to the month before. For example, instances of assault dropped from 29 to 26, vandalism fell from 38 to 36, shoplifting decreased from 15 to 14, DUI increased from 25 to 31 and theft increased from 38 to 40.
“Crime is going to go up and down; it’s never going to stay flatlined,” Droge said. “What we will tend to look at is trends … if crime is going up and down, obviously we want it to be down as low as we can, but realistically, it’s going to go up and it’s going to go down.”
Looking at raw crime rate data does not necessarily give a clear answer about what is happening in the city, Kevin Steinmetz, criminologist and assistant professor of sociology at K-state, said.
“The problem with these numbers is you can’t separate causation from correlation,” Steinmetz said. “There’s no evidence that you can use to support any of these conclusions.”
Droge said that based on his experience, the best way to explain the lack of a proven link between college students and crime rates was with an analogy.
“Pirates a long time ago were pretty prevalent on the sea; pollution was relatively low,” Droge said. “Pirates are no longer prevalent on the sea; pollution is relatively high. So we got rid of pirates, and pollution went up, so pirates must be good for keeping pollution down.”
For the K-State Police Department, there were fewer cases but more calls for service in December than November, according to data provided by Maj. Don Stubbings, assistant director of support services for the campus police. There were 78 cases and 519 calls for service in November, and 63 cases and 557 calls for service in December.
Stubbings said the increase in calls for service was likely due to more “self-initiated proactive patrols and building checks” during finals week. For example, these could include a police check of Seaton Hall as architecture students work late into the night on final projects.
Droge said the drop in traffic incidents over winter break was likely due to the absence of the additional vehicles of college students, leading to less congestion on Manhattan roads. He also said the drop in alcohol violations was likely due to fewer college students being in town.
“The notion that college students come in and we have more crime because college students come in, I guess on paper could appear accurate,” Droge said. “But in real life, I honestly believe that we have more victims that come in, or the opportunity for more people to become victims.”
For instance, Droge said the drop in motor vehicle burglary over winter break is probably not due to fewer college students committing crimes. Rather, he said it suggests that college students are more likely to become victims of crimes.
“You have people that come from different backgrounds and different residential makeups,” Droge said. “If you come from a town of a couple hundred, maybe you don’t lock your doors ever, and a crime has never occurred. Unfortunately, you can’t do that here. So 90 percent of all of our vehicle burglaries, the car was unlocked, the windows were down, it was in some fashion the car was unsecured.”
Droge said students should be more careful about making sure their that cars are locked and that they not leaving valuables in them.
“If you put yourself in a vehicle burglar’s shoes at 3 or 4 in the morning, when Manhattan is dead-quiet, are you going to break a window and make a noise so the cop down the block can hear you?” Droge said. “Or are you just going to open up the door and it looks like you are in the car? So even if a cop drives by, we have no idea that it’s not your car.”
Steinmetz said the routine activities theory of crime could be applied to the situation. The theory suggests that for a crime to occur, three things must be present: a likely offender, a suitable target and the absence of a capable guardian. Based on this theory, an unlocked car with valuables is a more suitable target for burglary.
If a person becomes the victim of burglary from a motor vehicle, Droge said he or she should report the crime; an online police report can be completed in 10-15 minutes and then submitted through the RCPD website.
“Online reporting makes it easier to report crimes,” Droge said. “Our hope is if it’s easier, more crimes will get reported.”
Droge said that when it comes to college students, the biggest emphasis of the police department is education about the noise ordinance.
“Really, the amount of emphasis on college students at the police department is a lot less than one might think,” Droge said. “Sometimes I think the perception is the police department can’t wait for college students to come back so that we can make arrests and write tickets for MIPs (minor in possession) and MICs (minor in consumption), because people think that we get our budget from those tickets. All of that is absolutely incorrect.”