Campus Safety Zones

All organizations are impacted by criminal activity in the neighborhoods in which they are located. Fortunately, many colleges and universities are located in low-crime areas, but others are located in moderate- to high-crime areas. The level of criminal activity in the community around a campus has a direct, and often significant, impact on the level of safety on campus. Unfortunately, many incidents across the nation indicate that higher education officials must be concerned about campus neighborhood crime issues.

Students who must walk through high-crime areas to get to and from campus have been known to carry weapons because of the fear of victimization. This creates a safety concern on campus. In other cases, criminals have followed students as they walk to campus and then attacked them on campus. As a rookie officer, I worked a rather bizarre incident where a rapist followed a co-ed to campus and attacked her. Fortunately, a group of students beat the rapist and ran over him with their car, stopping the attack before we arrived (I have little sympathy for rapists). Instances of college students being sexually assaulted, robbed and murdered as they approach and depart from their institutions are more common than anyone would like them to be.

Students, parents and school staff feel little consolation that the fatal shooting of a student took place off campus when the incident occurred across the street from the campus. To them, students and staff do not seem any safer than if the crime took place on campus.

Work With the Community

A community-based school/law enforcement partnership can effectively improve a difficult and sometimes dangerous situation. A coordinated approach that uses the various resources of the community can usually improve seemingly insurmountable problems.

The most successful campus safety zone initiatives involve a strong law enforcement component, making the zones high-intensity enforcement areas for traffic and quality-of-life code violations. Many lay people and some law enforcement personnel do not realize the powerful connection between seemingly minor violations and serious crime. The connection between aggressive traffic enforcement and the prevention of drive-by shootings by gang members is a case in point. For a drive-by shooting to occur, five elements must be present:

1. Gang members,

2. one or more guns,

3. a car,

4. the desire to commit the crime and

5. access to the intended target(s).

One way to prevent such a crime from taking place near a campus is to remove one or more of the required elements. Intensive traffic enforcement often helps to deal with at least three of those elements by limiting the perpetrators’ access to the intended victim(s). It is common for gang members to“hunt” an intended victim by repeatedly driving through or parking in an area where the victim is likely to pass. Intensive traffic enforcement makes the neighborhood around campus a high-risk environment for the gang member.

Gang members do not generally fare well in areas where traffic enforcement efforts are intensive. A study conducted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that police recover most illegal firearms in this country during traffic stops.

Another negative aspect of a highly patrolled area is that gang members’ vehicles often end up impounded because of a failure to comply with safety requirements. Careful monitoring of nonmoving violations, such as illegal parking, can also be a deterrent.

The drive-by shooting is just one problem that campus safety zone efforts can address. A host of others can be dealt with just as effectively as long as the strategy is designed using a team approach that stresses the partnership between the school, the law enforcement agency and the residents of the neighborhood.

Colleges and universities should not, and cannot, be tasked with the responsibility of securing these zones alone. Most colleges and universities are fortunate that they do not need to face the problems outlined in this column. Others have been able to at least partially address them by spending millions to literally purchase the neighborhoods around their campuses. But in other instances, this approach can be a major component in the problem-solving process. Assertive community policing practices can quickly convince the criminal element that students and others on campus and traveling to and from campus are“off limits.”

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International Inc., an IRS-approved, non-profit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety and can be reached through the Safe Havens Website at

About the Author

Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at