Crimes in schools and colleges are becoming a pressing issue for policy-makers. Crime surveys published over the past few years indicate that a high number of crimes are occurring, leaving behind a growing number of victims. According to Bouchrika (2020), schools and colleges are often presumed to be safe for learners, who are expected to focus on their studies and socialize with their peers. However, it can be observed that the school environment reflects some of the major issues within the society, especially when considering cultural, financial, geographic, and socio-economic factors. The disparities may be seen as some indicators of crimes or violence in schools. However, this study’s attention is on the growing incidences of student violence and other crimes over the last five years and the inability of the current security policies to achieve the desired outcome.
The current incidences reported in the various surveys highlight the need for crime prevention in schools and colleges. For example, the year 2019 saw over 764600 victimizations at school and 509300 away from the school of students aged between 12 and 8 years (Irwin et al., 2021). Additionally, about 22% of students in this age group reported being bullied at school, a relatively lower figure as compared to 28% recorded a decade ago in 2009. Gang presence at school has also been reported and students carrying weapons is still a problem despite the reducing number of such incidences. With these statistics, it is made apparent that school security is not guaranteed and that the current policies have failed. Therefore, there emerges a need to address the question of how to prevent crimes in schools and colleges.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is to explore crime prevention measures at schools and colleges and their efficacy. The presumption is that different schools in different states follow certain procedures and protocols for their security, which means that the outcomes for individual institutions are varied. Additionally, there is a possibility that federal or standard security measures are deployed across the country, which also needs to be explored. Overall, the study will seek to examine a sample of schools across the country to determine their security practices and compare the data with the reported crime incidences. The data from the study will also be used to examine the best approaches to crime prevention in schools and colleges based on what seems to work well and what has failed to yield positive results.
Significance of the Study
The significance of the study can be found in its role and contributions toward reducing the crime incidences in schools and colleges, making these institutions safer for the American children. However, the study is intended to make significant contributions to literature, specifically crime prevention and criminology theories and other concepts in criminal justice. The study also informs the policymakers regarding strategies and approaches to crime prevention in the context of schools and colleges. As such, the findings from the study can be used to develop a set of best practices that can be used by individual institutions or law enforcement agencies to ensure safe learning environments for American students.
Crime prevention theories and practices have been extensively studied in the past few decades, often with the focus being on what works and evidence-based approaches to policy-making. Such scholars Welsh et al. (2018) emphasize the need to understand the role of theory in the prevention of crime and delinquency. In this case, crime prevention is understood as the social and environmental strategies of reducing crime, which is distinguished from punishment or controlling crime. In other words, interventions implemented by the relevant stakeholders are intended to keep people off crimes as opposed to convicting those committing crimes. This is the position taken for this literature review and the study where crime prevention in schools and colleges is perceived as the use of preventive measures, strategies, and approaches to student crime. Current literature has addressed these elements, often focusing on the broader social contexts. However, very few studies have paid any attention to the context of schools and colleges, which means that there is a significant gap.
Sexual assaults can be considered to be one of the major crimes and acts of violence in modern colleges, which has resulted in many institutions developing programs targeting this crime. A study by Kerner et al. (2017) focuses on sexual assaults on college campuses, there, the researchers find that women tend to suffer psychological issues when assaulted. As such, many universities have established sexual assault prevention programs designed to train and create awareness among students and staff. The major limitations of these programs as identified by Kerner et al. (2017) include low attendance, lack of consistent focus, time limitations, and failure to perform impact measurements. Consequently, Kerner et al. (2017) propose such measures as mandatory causes involving straight talk with both genders, written policies and reporting procedures, and crisis or sexual assault counseling centers. Even though these recommendations have not been tested, they offer an effective theoretical foundation for further research. The findings from this study are critical, considering the literature gap and the inclusion of valid theoretical assumptions coupled with empirical observations.
Sexual violence is not the only crime that schools and colleges try to prevent. Therefore, many institutions attempt to implement general crime prevention measures. A study by Liedka et al. (2019) has explored how the use of closed circuit television (CCTV) systems as crime deterrents on campuses, where the findings indicate that such systems have little to no effect on crime prevention. Additionally, the scholars establish that crimes are more associated with such elements as location, institutional control, student population density, student-body demographics, and crime control practices. As such, more successful approaches include scheduling security patrols and student escort or transportation services. The findings regarding CCTV are almost paradoxical, considering that many organizations and enterprises use CCTV as part of their security system. However, it can be argued that the CCTV systems may be useful in crime control as opposed to prevention, which justifies the findings by Liedka et al. (2019). However, CCTV acts as a deterrent in some cases, including auto theft, but not in other types of crimes as explained by Piza (2018). Therefore, institutions cannot be advised to rely on CCTV to prevent student crime.
Security patrols have been described above as one of those alternatives to CCTV that works better in crime prevention. Therefore, some of the studies have explored the efficacy of deploying police officers in schools, often referred to as school resource officers (SROs) in preventing school crime. According to Devlin and Gottfredson (2018), schools that deployed SROs reported more crimes than those that did not have the SROs, which indicates that officers facilitate the recording and reporting of crime. In this case, the study by Devlin and Gottfredson (2018) does not seek to directly address crime prevention but focuses on reporting, which should help develop the necessary interventions. It can be argued that institutions that have better crime recording and reporting can develop a better understanding of the problem, which allows them to formulate preventive policies alongside such practices as crime control. It may not be clear whether the presence of officers can act as a deterrent, but effective reporting aided by them should help develop interventions.
Some crimes in schools and colleges are related to gang membership, meaning that crime prevention should also extend beyond the schools. According to Thornberry et al. (2018), modifying and deploying evidence-based delinquency programs for gang-involved youth is considered one of the most reasonable strategies for developing effective programs to deal with street gangs. In this case, the rationale is that removing gangs from the streets will also help eliminates related crimes within the school and college environments. Some of the youth are at higher risk of joining gangs, especially those disproportionately affected by socio-economic factors, including poverty and health. Even those families that manage to send their children to school may not succeed in keeping them from joining gangs. Therefore, reducing gang involvement among the youth is a viable program for preventing crime in schools and colleges. The presence of gangs in schools often concerns officials and policy-makers since gangs are responsible for multiple safety issues (Carson & Esbensen, 2017). Therefore, gang membership within and outside the school should be highly discouraged as a preventive mechanism.
Some of the prevention programs and approaches are designed with the federal legislation in mind, especially those that focus on some of the major security issues. Gun violence in the United States affects the entire country, where criminals could perceive schools and colleges as targets. School shootings have been reported in the recent past, which explains the necessity of regulating the presence of guns and other weapons around the schools. A study by Katsiyannis et al. (2018) establishes that the Gun-Free School Zones Act 1990 was developed to prevent the possession and to discharge of guns in a school environment. This legislation only exempts police officers conducting their duties or other school programs that allow this incident. Besides guns, other weapons making their way into the schools should be approached with the same caution, especially in states or neighborhoods where the possibilities of gang activities are high. This means curtailing concealed weapons of all kinds and ensuring that violence can be prevented by disallowing weapons within schools. Even though the Act is federal legislation, the argument is that the individual schools and their security frameworks are responsible for ensuring compliance.
Parental involvement is another approach that takes the prevention practices beyond the school environment. Current literature on parental involvement has often focused on academic outcomes in education and child development. However, it can be argued that how children are raised in their families and neighborhoods will influence delinquent behavior within the schools and colleges. Data from the School Survey on Crime and Safety analyzed by Lesneskie and Block (2017) reveals four major determinants of lower violence levels in schools. These elements are school climate, school security, parental involvement, and community involvement. In this case, the entire community is solicited to participate in ensuring that schools are safer for their children by contributing to reducing violence. A safe and crime-free community can lead to similar characteristics in schools where compliance is considered the standard and the norm. Violent communities will likely result in violent schools, which means that parents and members of society have a critical role to play in the crime prevention programs.
Parental and community involvement should be prioritized when designing prevention programs. The study by Lesneskie and Block (2017) does not specify the capacities of the parents and community in the prevention programs. However, it can be argued that such capacities as role models and volunteering are considered a starting point. Additionally, the data only shows that higher parental and community involvement results in lower crime levels, which means that future research should explore the roles played by parents and the community in greater depth. A similar quantitative study by Song et al. (2019) also finds parental involvement to be positively correlated with lower crimes in schools, even without specifying the roles played by parents. Overall, the main point is that schools and colleges should develop appropriate of integrating both parents and the community in crime prevention practices.
Overall, it is apparent that the current literature has attempted to explore the best approaches to crime prevention in schools and colleges. Some of the crimes involved are serious and requires legislation at the state and federal level. Examples given include gun legislation, which means that schools are required to enforce this law (Katsiyannis et al., 2018). Other major issues include sexual violence that victimizes women. Regardless of the nature of the crime, the current literature indicates that several multiple approaches and strategies have proven successful in crime prevention.
Research Questions and Hypotheses
The primary research question is what the best practices and approaches are for crime prevention in schools and colleges. This question is based on the identified purpose and problem statement, where crime rates seem to be reduced, but the incidence statistics show that crime remains a major challenge. With the focus on crime prevention, this question is broad and can be broken down into more specific questions, which will also be used in developing the research hypotheses. The specific study questions for this research are as outlined below:
- What are the current crime prevention strategies and approaches in schools and colleges?
- What are the key issues influencing the efficacy of the current crime prevention programs in schools and colleges?
- What are the best practices informed by current literature that could fill the gaps in crime prevention in schools and colleges?
- H1: Student courts, student-initiated programs, and peer mediation are some of the current approaches to crime prevention in schools and colleges that display a higher success rate.
- H2: Inadequate student participation levels and social and behavioral problems undermine the efficacy of the current approaches to crime prevention in schools and colleges.
- H3: Deterrents targeting behavioral and social processes should help fill the gaps in crime prevention in schools and colleges.
Mixed Methods Approach
Mixed-methods research is often viewed as the third methodological approach after qualitative and quantitative. Its emergence is also perceived as the result of the gaps observed in the qualitative and quantitative methods, which means that the mixed-methods approach seeks to combine both while addressing the major drawbacks. In other words, the mixed-methods approach combines qualitative and quantitative aspects to help achieve greater outcomes. In quantitative studies, the numerical treatment of the data means no in-depth insights are possible despite allowing for generalization to take place. Similarly, qualitative methods help scholars to dig deeper into a research phenomenon, but smaller sample sizes make it difficult to achieve generalization. Therefore, a mixed-methods approach seeks to collect and analyze data using both approaches to help achieve a more comprehensive view of the subject. According to Dawadi et al. (2021), mixed methods tend to have their own philosophical assumptions and inquiry methods. As such, this approach does not seek to simply combine methods. In this case, the use of the mixed-methods approach is intended to help collect and analyze both numerical and textual data on the subject of crime prevention in schools and colleges.
The rationale for the selection of the mixed-methods approach is the inherent advantages it offers in terms of the ability to offer richer insights. As explained by Dawadi et al. (2021), the mixed methods approach allows integrating multiple data sources to help study complex problems. In this research, the data will be collected from surveys and documents, including incident reports across the country. These sources are different and the data will need to be handled differently. For example, the surveys could yield both numerical and qualitative data to be treated statistically and using other preferred qualitative methods. More rigorous conclusions will be needed for those studies considering their significance and policy implications. Therefore, no major gaps should be left when proposing policy practice since such gaps could result in failed regulations and other negative consequences. A mixed-methods approach is deemed the best method to facilitate the development of true knowledge.
Descriptive Research Design
Descriptive research is chosen as the design for this study. By definition, descriptive research entails the collection to help test the hypotheses and/or answer research questions and offer greater details on the research problem (Sahin & Mete, 2021). Additionally, descriptive research tends to describe a situation, population, or phenomenon. Therefore, this design will be used to offer insights into the crime incidence in schools and colleges, crime prevention approaches and their efficacy, and the best practices that can be derived from current literature to fill the gaps or deficiencies in the success of crime prevention programs. In this case, descriptive design works well with the mixed-methods approach adopted, which also serves the same purpose of offering a comprehensive understanding of crime prevention in schools and colleges. The populations to be described include the school and college students and their institutions. Additionally, the phenomenon explored in student crime or violence and the prevention programs by the states and the individual institutions.
Descriptive research can be classified into several types, each offering a different perspective to the study. For example, a descriptive-survey design uses surveys to collect data on varying subjects to understand the extent to which different conditions are observed with the subject. A descriptive-normative survey is similar to a descriptive survey but extends the analyses to comparison with what is considered the norm. Other types include descriptive status, comparative, classification, and analysis. The type adopted for this study will be a descriptive survey, which will involve collecting data from such populations as students, teachers, and the relevant security bodies involved in student crime. However, this design will not be used exclusively, considering that some of the data will be collected using methods other than a survey. Overall, the descriptive research design is deemed to be the most appropriate design for this study.
Data Collection and Analysis
This research will collect and analyze both primary and secondary data, each of which will require different methods and approaches. The primary data will be conducted using a survey method, which is selected due to its rigor and reliability. The survey method involves collecting data regarding the population and its perceptions regarding the research phenomenon. Considering the current study seeks to obtain as much detail as possible, the survey will comprise online questionnaires to the selected samples. The questionnaire is preferred to other data collection techniques since it consumes less time compared to interviews and it is not as costly. Therefore, questionnaires create room for larger samples.
The sample size will comprise 200 respondents, comprising 120 students, 60 teachers, and 20 security personnel. The sampling strategy used will be stratified sampling, where random sampling will be used under each stratum. This requires that the populations be precisely and specifically defined to make the sampling easier. Additionally, purposeful sampling will be used in the selection of the schools and states where the respondents will be gathered. In this case, the national statistics on student crimes will be used to identify the most and least effective states and schools, which will help offer both perspectives of failing and succeeding prevention practices and approaches.
Secondary data will be collected using a systematic review of literature, which entails examining documents with data on the research subject. In this case, school reports and incident reports from either the schools or relevant law enforcement agencies will be used to assess the efficacy of programs. Additionally, indicators and factors explaining the incidences and recorded historical data depicting the extent of the problem will be explored from the relevant documents.
Data analysis will also require different methods based on the type, nature, and source of information. In this case, descriptive statistics will be used to provide demographic characteristics and the incidences across the selected schools. Additionally, a regression analysis will be used in modeling the relationship between prevention programs and crime incidence, as well as core indicators and crime incidence across the selected schools. Thematic analysis will be the method used in analyzing the secondary data. In this case, codes will be determined to help with the development of themes. Each theme will be supported by the literature gathered from multiple sources, including the primary survey research where possible.
Conducting a study of this nature, which involves people in the collection of data, will require the researcher to observe several ethical issues. Ethical issues can be described as a set of principles that guide research designs and practices. In this case, both students and teachers are involved, alongside security personnel. Additionally, the data sought is sensitive, which demands careful handling. The first ethical issue is informed consent before engaging students in the study. Considering that the study takes place in the school setting, consent will be sought from the teachers. Other necessary guidelines, both at the federal and state level, will be followed, including where parental consent will be needed. Confidentiality and anonymity will be maintained to help protect the identity of the respondents. Additionally, privacy will be observed by ensuring no personal details are collected. The researcher will ensure to cause no harm to any participants, either mental, psychological, or physical. Participation will also be made voluntary, which means that no one will be coerced to participate.
The current research has several policy implications, both at the institutional level and state level. At the institution level, the findings of this research offer detailed insights into the current status of crime prevention policies and the gaps that they display in their implementation and deterring student violence and crime. The institutional policymakers are tasked with the responsibility of formulating policies, which means that they depend on current research to build their frameworks. Therefore, this study will offer policymakers a comprehensive view of the current security landscape across schools and colleges and a chance to examine how their policies compare to what are considered best practices. Today, it can be observed that each institution has its policy and programs for crime prevention, each targeting a specific aspect of crime. For example, some focus on sexual violence among students, which can be considered one of the most common issues in schools across the country. Others provide a more general approach in terms of mentoring programs and victim services intended to treat individuals that have suffered from crime.
Therefore, this study informs these schools about what others are doing and how they are faring as compared to themselves. In other words, the study provides a benchmark for the schools and colleges upon which to gauge their programs and success rates in preventing crimes. This goal is achieved by highlighting what can be considered to be best practices informed by the current literature. From a theoretical perspective, approaches and strategies used are based on proven theories. In this case, the policymakers will have a more solid theoretical foundation to inform their practices.
At the state level, this research will have several policy implications, most of which revolve around approaches and strategies of law enforcement in handling student crime. Different states face different challenges with crimes at schools and colleges. The rationale for involving law enforcement is that many of the criminal activities affect the country as a whole and their handling goes beyond the school administration. Behavioral and social determinants of crime should be a key area of interest for policymakers. They serve as both indicators of crime and areas of intervention. Law enforcement will need to understand the current landscape of major crimes, including illicit weapons and gang affiliations. Additionally, their prevention efforts should focus on the broader social context seeking to prevent youth from criminal tendencies. This research offers the best practices and informs on the efficacy of selected programs, which should act as a guide to the implementation of state-level prevention programs.
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