Arielle Fischer, features editor
2020 brought several adjustments to life at Berry, such as mask mandates, Zoom classes and “Berry Bubble” restrictions. Throughout 2020, Berry also experienced a significant decrease in crimes committed both on-campus and off-campus by students, according to the 2021 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report. Moreover, there may be some discrepancy as to what these crimes were, why they may have been committed and how these instances compare with past years at Berry and other nearby schools.
CHANGES IN CRIME
Throughout the past three years, crimes on campus have changed, possibly due to the arrival of the COVID-19 virus and the pressures to keep students at Berry, in their own spaces. According to the Security Report, the reports of sexual assault/harassment and burglary were significantly higher in both 2018 and 2019. In 2020, nearly all serious crimes, like those mentioned previously, decreased significantly. For example, in 2019, there were eight documented accounts of burglary, however in 2020, there were only three. Similarly, 2018 held five accounts of rape, 2019 held two, while in 2020, only one report was documented. The numbers of referrals for alcohol violations dramatically decreased as well, with only 17 alcohol-related referrals in 2020 as opposed to 2018 having 54 referrals.
Drug-use referrals also diminished from 17 reports in 2019 to only seven in 2020. There is speculation as to if COVID-19 was a direct correspondent to the decrease in crime; however, as the reports suggest, this possibility is not unlikely. In 2020, students had quite a few limitations, such as travel restrictions and the “Berry Bubble,” so the prospect of limited freedoms and social opportunities may have played a role in crime rates, giving students less of a reason, or chance, to commit felonies.
While there is no specific evidence for COVID-19 being responsible for a significant drop in the crime at Berry, it cannot be ruled out that the events of 2020, especially the coronavirus, were prominent factors. It also must be noted that during 2020, the campus was closed for a large portion of the year. Late March through mid-May was closed for all people, but Berry was closed to the public until this past summer. A direct result of fewer people frequenting the campus could have been fewer misdemeanors. Without the influx of people or visitors from outside of Berry, there were less individuals on campus able to commit crimes, leading the 2020 crime statistics to decrease overall as compared to other years.
According to the Berry College 2021 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, over the past three years, the most common crimes have largely been sexual assault and harassment. There have also been multiple reports of burglary. To illustrate, between 2018 to 2020, there have been eight accounts of rape, four accounts of fondling, four accounts of stalking and two accounts of dating violence. However, the most common, serious, crime committed at Berry remains to be burglary, which the Security Report defines as “unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or a theft.”
There have been 16 burglary accounts reported since 2018. For Berry-policy-specific crimes detailing incidents of alcohol and drug use violations, 108 liquor law referrals were initiated within the previous three years, along with 44 drug-use referrals. In 2018, there was only one arrest for drug violations, but in 2019 one arrest for drug-use violations and another for alcohol violations occurred. While referrals are a Berry-issued punishment, arrests are serious law-ordered consequences. This same year, there were two arrests for going against the weapons policy.
MEASURES IN PLACE
Berry College has implemented several measures to ensure a safe environment for students and staff. For one, campus police are on duty 24 hours a day for any concerns that might arise. Blue police boxes with call buttons are located throughout the campus should anyone need them. Additionally, on a localized scale, Resident Assistants (RAs) are thoroughly trained for several weeks in the summer in preparation for students. These training sessions cover a wide range of topics, from assault, emergency response, medical issues, alcohol safety, mental health and Title IX affairs.
This way, RAs can assist their residents in any way they may need and keep personal confidentiality towards any and all reports. According to the report, there are also Emergency Response Management systems in every building on campus, as well as specialized people equipped and trained to operate them. These systems are responsible for identifying certain threats in buildings as well as firing different alarms in case of emergencies.
While a large portion of Berry’s reports are related to violations of alcohol restrictions and drug use, because of the “Dry Campus” policy, it is difficult to compare this violation of college code due to the bias it would create on non-dry campuses. Therefore, major crimes and assaults will be treated as the focus of this comparison.
Davidson College, in North Carolina, is around the same size as Berry, but their crime rates are considerably different. According to Davidson’s crime reports from 2018 to 2020, the college has experienced 20 reports of rape, half of which took place in 2018. Davidson also experienced 20 accounts of fondling, 10 accounts of burglary, 10 motor vehicle theft reports, one arson report, three documentations of dating violence and two stalking incidents over the course of three years.
Similar to Berry, most of the crimes were related to sexual assault and harrassment, with the addition of arson and motor vehicle theft. However, while most of the crimes decrease in 2020, like rape dropping from nine cases in 2019 to one a year later, some crimes actually increased or remained relatively the same in the height of COVID-19. Fondling, for example, went from nine to eight cases from 2019 to 2020. Also, arson experienced its only account from the past three years during 2020. These examples lead to potential skepticism around the idea that the COVID-19 pandemic was partially responsible for a decrease in crime.
Another school around Berry’s size and stature is a sport’s rival, Birmingham-Southern College (BSC). While the data from 2020 was not retrievable, there is still a valid comparison to be made between 2018 and 2019. Overall, BSC experienced significantly lower serious crime rates throughout the two years listed. BSC listed 5 accounts of rape between 2018-2019, along with 12 burglary reports, one arson report, one motor vehicle theft, and added one documented hate crime. BSC is slightly smaller than Berry, which may accommodate the fewer numbers in crime; however, in general, Berry has slightly higher numbers in reported felonies, compared to BSC.
Overall, Berry’s crimes in recent years have been relatively minimal as compared to prior academic terms as well as some nearby schools. Nevertheless, most of Berry’s felonies decreased in 2020. While there is some speculation if COVID-19 had a role to play in this decrease, some colleges did not feel the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on their felony rates as others did. Furthermore, crime on college campuses is not uncommon, but with the impact of the 2020 pandemic, college crimes may be on a downfall.