Dr. Katherine Ramsland: Risk Assessment For College

A Century of Female Cops

Dr. Katherine Ramsland has published 37 books, 16 short stories, and over 900 articles. She is professor of forensic psychology and criminal justice at DeSales University, and her latest books are Inside the Minds of Sexual Predators and The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds.

Risk Assessment for College
On February 12, 2010, a Harvard-trained biology professor reacted badly during a late-afternoon faculty meeting. Months earlier, she’d been denied tenure and was facing some tough decisions about her future. It’s rare to see an incident of workplace violence on a college campus, and even less likely that a woman’s the shooter, but that’s what happened when Amy Bishop, 42, allegedly picked up a 9-mm handgun. She killed three of her colleagues and wounded three others at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. (At this writing, two remain in critical condition).

The attack occurred in the science building, and Bishop was taken into custody outside. Reportedly, she denied that the incident had happened, but it was not the first time she had shot someone. Years ago, in an incident tagged accidental she had fatally shot her brother three times. The gun she used was not on her but hours later it was located inside. Bishop did not have a permit. Students who know the assistant professor were stunned, and one said that she’d been calm that morning during class. However, she seemed to be targeting the tenure process decisions-makers. Among the dead were the department chair and two professors who’d reach the coveted security she was seeking. The campus immediately closed down as authorities sorted through what had happened that day.

Police take Amy Bishop into custody after the shooting. (CNN photo)

For a long time, Americans bought the image of a college campus as a safe haven, but a murder at Lehigh University in 1986 forced statistics out in the open. There was more crime, violent and otherwise, than most people realized. R. Barri Flowers documents it in his 2009 book, College Crime: A Statistical Study of Offenses on American Campuses, with an emphasis on crime involving or targeting students. Among the cases is one that launched a new openness about the realities of college campuses.

Jeanne Ann Clery, 19, was asleep in her room when another student, Joseph Henry, broke in around 6:00 A.M. He raped and sodomized her, strangled her with a slinky toy, and cut her throat. Apparently, he’d exploited the common practice by female residents of propping open the dorm’s entrance doors to sneak in their boyfriends at night. In this case, it had been propped with pizza boxes. The school’s patrols were aware of this practice but often overlooked it. Not only that, Clery’s killer had a criminal record. According to the New York Times, school officials had known that Henry had problems with drug abuse. He was arrested for the murder after he bragged about it to friends and one of them turned him in. Henry was tried for Clery’s murder and convicted.

Jeanne’s heartbroken parents, Connie and Howard Clery, did some research and learned about three dozen incidents of violent crime on the Lehigh U campus over the prior three years, half committed by Lehigh students. In addition, security was lacking: the door to Jeanne’s dorm had been discovered propped open 181 times in the four month prior to her death. No school official had informed them of this; instead, they’d been told that the campus was safe. There wasn’t even a policy, they learned, for punishing students caught propping doors. The Clerys sued the school, arguing that security measures at their daughter’s dorm had been inadequate. For the safety of future students, they wanted Lehigh to put electronically monitored locks on dormitory entrances, increase security guards, and limit access to the dorms at night to a single main entrance that could be monitored.

The Clerys also launched a national campaign to increase awareness about crime on college campuses, which inspired the PA Legislature to require that all campuses in that state, public or private, publish crime statistics in their admissions literature. Eventually, the Clery Act became a landmark federal law, tying participation to federal financial aid. Any school that failed to comply could receive a fine from the U. S. Department of Education. In 1992, victims’ rights measures were added, and in the 1998 Clery Act, reporting requirements were expanded. In 2008 (after the Virginia Tech shooting that resulted in 33 deaths), schools were required to issue immediate notifications to students, faculty, and employees of any known danger or campus emergency.

Flowers, a crime writer and mystery novelist, makes a point to say that, for the most part, college and universities across the country are safe, but criminality and victimization are certainly not absent. He documents substance abuse, date rape, sexual assault, murder, hate crimes, and stalkers, showing the trends from an array of sources. Of the 7.9 million students enrolled in an American college or university, he says that more than half a million are victims of violent crime (although 85% of these incidents are off campus). In nearly one out of four incidents, a weapon is used, and six out of ten offenders are strangers to the victims, as Henry was to Clery.


Author R. Barri Flowers

These days, schools take more precautions. Campus-wide security alerts, instant lockdown, class cancellations, victim counseling, and education about self-protection have become part of the program. Students are drilled on how to respond to unexpected incidents. Research has also turned up more information about why campus crimes are often under-reported, which helps to focus educational efforts. While putting campus crime in perspective with trends across the decades, Flowers also offers victim resources and a guide to the prevention of on-campus crime. (College Crime can be found on www.mcfarland.com.)

11 replies
  1. Bob Mueller
    Bob Mueller says:


    Be careful not to use “security” and “police” interchangeably. Security officers have no arrest authority, and depending on state law, may not even be able to detain you.

    I was both a college security officer and a college police officer over the course of about 2.5 years at a “small, private Midwestern college.”

    When I was first hired as a security officer, we were just that: uniformed and unarmed (other than a Nova stun-gun – NOT a Taser). We had radio contact with our office, and at night, we turned on a radio-telephone interface that allowed us to dial the phone from our radio to call the local police. Two of the four officers were actually court-appointed constables, though, with full arrest authority – only on campus. The constables were appointed by a local court upon petition of the college trustees.

    At the time, that was one of two ways for private colleges in Ohio to have officers with arrest authority. The only other way was for the college to work out an agreement with the local police department or sheriff’s office to commission college officers as reserve officers in the other agency.

    Notice I emphasized private colleges. Public colleges were owned/run by the state, so they could have a police department, with all that entailed. But most public colleges also had some security staff, who could not arrest or (normally) carry firearms.

    Confused yet? 🙂

    In late 1993, the Ohio legislature passed a law that allowed private colleges to establish their own police departments, and my employer was the second school to do that. Homecoming Weekend, 1993, I became a college police officer, once the board of trustees passed the acts they needed to.

    Interestingly enough, I never carried a firearm at that college (this was 93-94). At the time, the trustees felt there wasn’t enough of a need for us to carry weapons. They didn’t realize that college campuses are open by definition, and the public could easily walk on to the campus. I told several people I wasn’t worried about the drunken student at 0100, I was more worried about the paroled sex offender I caught near the dorm at 0230.

    A couple of years after I left, the officers on duty started carrying at night, and right after Virginia Tech, all of the officers carried fulltime.

    Probably more than you wanted to know, but there you go.

  2. JanW
    JanW says:

    Thanks for the article. The level of the violence involved in this one may be at the outer range, but violence and crime on campus is definitely not a new thing.

    When I was a freshman on a smallish Indiana campus in 1971, a girl in my year was murdered and found in the truck of a car. As I recall, I was in that area of campus that night around the sorority dorms, so it could have been me. I don’t remember any changes in terms of security at that time. We got on with life, including moving around at night alone. We had no other options. They did eventually think they found the murderer, but I don’t think they were able to convict him for this murder.

    It’s interesting that this article is titled “Risk Assessment”. Every day of life is at least a subconscious risk assessment of the situations we find ourselves in. I’m not convinced that crime is actually on the rise everywhere. National statistics are going to obscure a lot of local situations that are quite safe. It would be useful to have a better demographic analysis of all this, and most people won’t bother to try and understand it, or aren’t equipped to make sense of it. Even if they did, there are variables that are put ahead of crime when one is choosing a college than the local crime rates.

  3. R. Barri Flowers
    R. Barri Flowers says:

    Sadly, the University of Alabama professor’s alleged mass shooting rampage, resulting in the deaths of three other professors , underscores the vulnerability within the college environment for professors, students, and everyone else on campus. So long as firearms are easily accessible and the weapon of choice for those who wish to do others harm, these types of incidents will continue to occur at institutions of higher learning, which traditionally offers an open and welcoming atmosphere. This plays right into the hands of mass (and serial) killers who can often circumvent campus security long enough to perpetrate their crimes.

    Perhaps even more disturbing is that the person suspected in the latest such tragedy is a female. Though mass killings are typically perpetrated by males, this is a wakeup call that that homicidal rage is not gender-specific, but rather is a product of the individual with a beef against someone or an institution and the means to carry out retribution. Since the deadly use of firearms doesn’t necessarily require a great deal of planning, warning signs may either be absent or ignored till after the fact. Substance abuse often plays a role in campus violence, weakening inhibit ions and otherwise giving perpetrators the impetus to act on dark impulses.

    In spite of headline grabbing tales of murder, mayhem, and sexual assaults on college campuses, in general, college life continues to be a safe and rewarding experience for most students, professors, and staff. Campus security has improved in recent years, in response to increased college criminality and violence in society. However, it only takes one incident such as the aforementioned to remind us all that there are no sanctuaries from depraved or unstable minds armed with loaded guns and a desire to kill.

  4. SZ
    SZ says:

    I am curious how a person shoots someone 3 times “accidentally” and the university that would choose to hire this person. It is all too odd.

    It is sad that it took the Clerys loss and and a lawsuit to mandate what should have gone into place without a fight.

  5. ramona
    ramona says:

    I live in a college town, and there is constant on-campus crime, such as mentioned above: theft, mugging, assaults, fights, rape, drug deals, etc. Curiously, it has only been in the past two years (2008, I believe) that the campus police switched to being armed at all times while on duty. Prior to that, weapons were kept in the trunks of patrol cars. I wonder, what is common on college campuses? Security that is armed, or not?

    The police here do provide escort services for students at night, and they do seem to be a presence. I know I see campus police cars all the time–usually when I’m eeking a few over the speed limit.

  6. queenofmean
    queenofmean says:

    With one son in college away from home & another ready to go soon, campus security is a big concern for me. While it’s important for the schools to do what they can to make the campuses safe, much of the responsibility falls to the students themselves. The school administration & campus security cannot be everywhere at every moment. Just as police in our cities cannot be everywhere. In fact, if you think about it, college campuses are just like little cities – only most of the residents are in the 18-22 year old range!
    I know from the days when I was in college, people did stupid things, just not thinking that anything would happen to them. Leaving doors & windows open, walking across campus alone after dark, accepting rides from other students they didn’t really know: these are just a few examples of things that I’m sure are still done everyday on college campuses.
    As mentioned it the article, there are much more security measures in force now than in the past and that’s a good thing. They just don’t do much good when people purposely by-pass those measures. As always, personal saftey begins with each individual person.

  7. Elena
    Elena says:

    What is the purpose of this essay? To sell this book, make us scared, have us read a poor example of semi-journalistic writing? And what does Dr. Ramsland have to do with it?
    I am intrigued by Dr. Bishop shooting “her brother fatally three times”.

  8. Bob Mueller
    Bob Mueller says:

    The comment about Bishop not having a permit is superfluous at best and shows some level of ignorance or bias regarding gun laws in Alabama.

    Alabama requires no permit to purchase or possess a firearm, and possession of a concealed weapons permit in this case would have absolutely no bearing.

    It’s definitely worth looking much more carefully at the events surround the death of her brother, as several investigative reports from that incident have disappeared from police files. I hardly think someone “accidentally” shoots someone three times with a pump-action shotgun, then goes running down the street pointing the gun at random vehicles.

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