While colleges and universities are among the safest communities, no campus is immune from crime. Promoting safety on campus is the responsibility of students, faculty, staff, campus and Metropolitan Police officers, and other members of the campus community. An important part of everyone's education is learning how to be alert, use common sense, and prevent unnecessary threats to the safety of themselves and others.
While not every crime can be prevented, this section offers tips for reducing your risk of being victimized on campus. It also offers steps you can take in the event of a crime to keep the situation from getting worse.
Protecting Your Residence and Valuables
If you live in a dorm room, fraternity or sorority house, or other on-campus housing, here are simple tips for protecting your residence and belongings. If you have roommates, make sure they understand and follow these same tips:
- Lock the door to your room whenever you leave, even if it is just for a few minutes. The majority of thefts from dorm rooms and apartments happen when the residents are not in and the door is unlocked. Also, lock your door when you are showering or sleeping. If you live on the ground floor, lock your windows. If you discover that your door or window does not lock, leave a maintenance request to have it repaired and contact your resident assistant. If you live in a unit with a sliding glass door, secure it further by placing a length of wood (a dowel or broom handle) in the track on the floor to stop it from opening.
- Don't leave exterior doors or inner lobby doors propped open when they should be closed. If you find one open, close it. And never allow individuals you do not recognize and who do not have a key or pass-card to enter a building. This includes pizza delivery drivers and other service personnel in uniforms.
- Be particularly careful as you are moving in or out of your room. Have family or friends assist you with watching your valuables at both ends: your room and the vehicle holding them.
- Record the serial numbers of valuable objects you have in your room. Engrave such objects with your driver's license number.
- Do not leave cash, credit cards, or checks in unlocked desks or cabinets.
- If you have a laptop computer, lock it in a desk or cabinet when you are out of your room—and keep it in your immediate possession at all other times. The same is true for a cell phone.
- Mark clothes with a laundry pen or thread and needle in a spot other than the label.
- Do not allow people you do not know well to stay overnight in your room.
- Lock your car whenever it is unattended, both on- and off-campus.
- Do not leave expensive property, such as laptops, CD cases, money, purses, cell phones, and portable stereos in plain view in your car. Lock them in your trunk or take them with you.
- Engrave your Vehicle Identification Number (found on your registration or under the windshield on the driver's side) on the doors, windows, fenders, and trunk lids of your car. This helps prevent theft, because the thief will need to replace these parts before selling the car.
- If you live off-campus, try to park your car off the street, in a garage or other secure area. If this is not possible, always park in a well-lighted area.
- Use a steering wheel lock when your car is parked. While these devices are not foolproof, a thief may decide it's not worth the effort.
Protecting Your Bicycle
Bicycles are among the most popular forms of transportation on campus, which makes them a popular target of thieves. Help protect your bicycle by taking these simple steps.
- Lock your bicycle—always—even if you are going somewhere for only a minute or two. If possible, lock your bicycle inside a building or a well-lighted area. Always secure your lock through the frame as well as both wheels. Do not merely lock your bicycle to itself, but lock it to something solid such as a bicycle rack or sturdy post.
- If you live off-campus, always lock your bicycle, even if you store it in your apartment building or a garage. Every year, hundreds of unlocked bikes are stolen from locked garages.
- Make sure your bicycle lock is adequate for the task. Bike thieves often check out bike racks looking for "bargains," the best bike with the cheapest looking lock. Investing a few extra dollars in a good lock can end up saving you money—and grief—down the road.
- Register your bicycle with the Metropolitan Police Department. This can be done at any police district station; your campus police department may also take bicycle registrations. If your bicycle is registered, then stolen and recovered, the police will know you are the owner and can return it to you.
- Record the serial number of your bicycle. If your bicycle is stolen, report the theft to the police and give them the serial number. If the bicycle is stolen and recovered, it can then be returned to you.
Protecting Against Sexual Assault/Stalking
Many of the general "street safety" tips apply to reducing your risk of being sexually assaulted. If you are the victim of an attempted sexual assault, remember that the goal is survival. Here are some steps to help prevent some assaults from progressing, and for helping victims in the aftermath of a sexual assault:
- Stall for time. Figure out your options. Each situation is different. Decide if you will fight, try to talk your way out of the assault, scream, or, if necessary for your survival, submit.
- If you fight, hit hard and fast. Target the eyes and groin.
- Try to dissuade the attacker from continuing. Tell him you have a sexually transmitted disease, tell him you are menstruating, urinate, vomit, or do anything to discourage the attacker.
- If you are the victim of a sexual assault, call 9-1-1 immediately. The responding officers will assist you in seeking medical treatment and advice, which are critical in the aftermath of an attack.
- Seek help if you feel you need it. While different victims react differently, the weeks and months following a sexual assault can be extremely difficult. Most campuses offer support groups or other resources for victims. Remember: you are the victim, not the person who did anything wrong.
- Avoid "date rape." Tragically, many sexual assaults on campus involve date rape. Learn more about this crime, its tell-tale signs, and strategies for getting out of difficult and dangerous situations. Many campuses offer self-help seminars on date rape.
- Be responsible in your consumption of alcohol. Many date rapes involve the use of alcohol or illegal drugs. Never accept a drink from anybody you don’t know or trust; never accept a drink unless you’re sure of the contents; and, if you leave your drink unattended for even a minute, throw it away and get a new one. Unfortunately, so-called "date rape" drugs such as GHB are becoming increasingly common on campuses and in the community.
Stalking is defined as repeated harassment that could or does cause the victim to feel intimidated, threatened, or frightened. While it may be impossible to completely deter a stalker from the beginning, you can take important steps to prevent the harassment from continuing:
- If you are a victim of stalking, report it to your campus police department and/or the MPDC. Even if you are unsure about filing charges, it is important to report the activity right away.
- Gather information to help your case, such as taped recordings of threatening phone calls, letters, emails, license plate information, description of a vehicle, a personal description, and a detailed listing of any contacts the stalker makes with you.
- Follow up in court, if necessary. Take out an anti-stalking order of protection in court, and/or file a civil lawsuit against the stalker for damages resulting from the stalker's behavior. Campuses often offer free legal advice and support in these types of cases.
- If the stalking continues after the anti-stalking order has been filed, contact the police immediately and press charges.
Protecting Against Other Crimes Against Persons
In Your Residence
- Keep your doors locked, even when you are in the residence. Do not allow anyone in until you know who that person is. If the person claims to be dorm maintenance or a utility worker, verify that by asking for identification. People who have legitimate reasons to be there should not hesitate to provide IDs.
- If you have voice mail or an answering machine, do not put your name on your recording. Also, if you and your roommates are female, consider having a male friend record your greeting.
- If you are receiving threatening or obscene phone calls, contact campus police and the telephone operator if you live on-campus, or Metropolitan Police if you live off-campus.
- If you notice a person attempting to gain entry to your residence or attempting to look into your residence, call campus police if you live on-campus or the MPDC at 9-1-1 if you live off-campus. Be prepared to give a description of the person, and tell where you last saw the person and the direction he or she was headed in at the time.
In Your Car
- Park in well-lighted, busy areas. Avoid dark, secluded areas.
- Always lock your car, even if you are in it at the time.
- As you approach your car, be aware of other people around. If you see someone loitering near your car, do not go to it; instead, walk to an area where there are other people.
- Have your car keys ready. Make sure you don't have to stand by your car fumbling for your keys.
- Before you enter your car, look inside to make sure there is no intruder in the car.
- If you see another motorist stranded on the road, do not stop to help. Keep driving and call the police.
- While driving, keep valuables out of sight, and not on the seat next to you. When you are stopped in traffic or at a stop light, some "smash-and-grab" thieves will break out the passenger window and snatch valuables from your car seat.
- If you are stranded in your car, do not accept help from anyone. If someone offers help, stay in your car and ask him or her to call police. Do not accept help from the police unless they are in uniform and driving a marked patrol car.
- If you are approached by a carjacker demanding your car, give it up. Your life and health are worth more than any vehicle.
When You Are Out
- Don't carry a lot of cash. Carry wallets in inside jacket pockets or front pants pockets.
- Don't show off valuables. Expensive clothes and jewelry can make you a target for thieves—on- or off-campus.
- Avoid shortcuts through dark, secluded areas. Stay where other people are around.
- Do not walk alone. If you jog or walk for exercise, do it with others.
- Walk with confidence. Thieves are more likely to single out those who appear hesitant or unsure of themselves.
- When walking to your residence or car, always have your keys ready so you will spend as little time as possible in the open.
- If you are being harassed, loudly say, "Leave me alone!" If that doesn't stop the harassment, continue to attract people's attention and head toward any type of facility where other people are around.
- If you are confronted, give up your valuables—especially if the attacker has a weapon. Nothing is as important as your life.
- Try to stay out of arm's reach of the attacker. Don't let the attacker move you into an alley or car. Your best defense if the attacker persists is to scream and run.
- Consider purchasing a personal alarm for defensive purposes.
- Look into self-defense classes. Many are offered on campus or in the community.
At ATMsIn recent years, ATM users have become a target for thieves. To prevent yourself from becoming a victim at an ATM:
- If possible, use ATM's that are located inside buildings, such as a student union. If you must use an outdoor ATM, avoid using it at night. If you must use one at night, select one with a lot of people around, that is well-lighted, and is not in a secluded, low-visibility area.
- Try to have a friend accompany you when using an ATM.
- Be aware of your surroundings and the people around you.
- Complete your transaction as quickly as possible, and do not flaunt your cash. Secure your cash and your ATM card in your wallet or purse before leaving the machine.
Federal law requires that all colleges and universities keep track of and report crimes that occur on their campuses.The following organizations provide additional information about campus safety.
- Campus Security Statistics Website (US Department of Education)
- Anti-Hazing Information
- Club Drug Information (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
- Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention
- International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators
- Responding to Hate Crimes on Campus (Community Relations Service)
- American University Police Department
- Catholic University Department of Public Safety
- Gallaudet University Department of Public Safety
- George Washington University Police Department
- Georgetown University Department of Public Safety
- Howard University Campus Police
- Trinity (Washington) University Department of Public Safety
- University of the District of Columbia, Department of Public Safety & Emergency Management Services [PDF]