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UMaine pushes back against poor, unfounded safety rating

In a September 2018 study, a data research team from insurance quote comparison website Insurify ranked the University of Maine fourth on its list of the 20 most dangerous universities in the United States, citing a “less involved and multifaceted police force” than many other schools on the list.

According to Insurify, the research process involved compiling the most recent data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR). Schools were ranked by the proportion of violent crimes and property theft crimes per 10,000 students.

While numbers collected from FBI reports seem reputable at a glance, The University of Maine Police Department (UMPD) Chief of Police Roland LaCroix says that data often requires context, otherwise its meaning can be misunderstood.

UMPD reported 24 sexual assaults in 2016, eight of which actually occurred prior to 2016, but were only reported during that year. Reports like theses, made years after an incident occurs, can contribute to skewed data.

LaCroix also took issue with the article’s statement that UMaine’s police force is “less involved.”

“We do everything for everyone,” LaCroix said.

UMPD is the only 24/7 law and policy enforcement operation on campus, and with only 19 officers including the chief, it is often spread thin. During the 2017-18 school year, UMPD responded to around 600 lockouts, 1,800 money escorts, 100 vehicle lockouts and 250 citizen assists. Throughout the school year, they responded to 6,082 calls for services in total.

UMaine isn’t the only school whose police department felt the study was unfounded. Joe Newport, director of public safety and chief of police at Indiana State University (ISU), got in contact with Insurify writer Nick Dehn after learning ISU was ranked 11th on the list. Newport called Insurify’s data-gathering process “flawed and irresponsible,” and reached out to several of the other school’s public safety officials, including LaCroix.

On Sept. 25, Dehn replied that Insurify would stop promoting the article.

“With this study, our aim was to cite the most highly reputable and accurate data available from the UCR, and also highlight the positive campus and public safety initiatives at each school listed,” Dehn wrote in an email to Newport. “In no way did our content and data teams intend to mischaracterize the students or campus police forces of these schools, as we noted in the article, or confer a value judgment based on the rankings. We realize that we made some errors in communicating these objectives to the reader.”

Property theft is prevalent on campus, including bike theft in particular, but this type of crime isn’t isolated to UMaine. Similarly, alcohol abuse and sexual assault are a significant problem at UMaine, but these issues are a part of nearly every college community.

In contrast to the Insurify study, in February 2018 the National Council for Home Safety and Security published a list of the 100 safest college campuses in America, ranking UMaine 29th. Like Insurify, this study also used the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting, also including the Campus Safety Security Survey put out by the U.S. Department of Education.

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