Each year, Fairfield University, along with most other colleges and universities, is required to release a report detailing procedures for handling crimes that occur on campus as well as statistics on how many crimes have taken place. The reason behind this requirement goes back decades ago, to when, in 1986, Jeanne Clery, a first-year at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, was brutally raped and murdered in her dorm room. In the wake of this act of violence, Clery’s parents lobbied the government to enact legislative reforms that would require all colleges that participate in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crime on their campuses. Thus, the Clery Act of 1990 was born.
Recently, the university released its newest report, which reflects data from 2019. There were eight sexual offenses, two stalking incidents, two dating violence incidents, three burglaries and 22 larceny-thefts. In terms of arrests, there was one for a liquor-law violation and 11 for drug abuse violations. There were also 288 disciplinary referrals for liquor-law violations, 35 referrals for drug abuse violations and one referral for a weapon possession.
The crime rate is determined by the number of incidents reported divided by the total number of FTE (Full Time Equivalent) for students and employees for the same calendar period. According to the report, the total number of FTE students and staff on Fairfield University’s campus in 2019 was 6,711 (students: 5,621, staff: 1,090). These figures also include Fairfield College Preparatory School.
Crime statistics on campus were largely unchanged on campus when compared with previous years, with the exception of burglaries and larceny-thefts, which were down 73 percent and 58 percent from 2016, respectively. The reason behind this improvement? According to Director of Public Safety Todd Pelazza, DPS has worked to encourage students to keep their bedroom doors locked at all times.
“This is a learning process,” he said. “Most of us did not lock their bedrooms at our homes.”
Overall, it appears that Fairfield is as safe or safer than most other colleges and universities. However, according to Associate Director of Public Safety Frank Ficko ‘82, there are still ways for students to improve the safety of campus even further.
“We’re lucky here at Fairfield in that the crime rate is significantly lower than many other universities. Unfortunately, we become lax and complacent which sometimes leads to crimes of opportunity,” Ficko said. “Simple things like locking your doors, parking and walking in well-lit areas and reporting suspicious activity can make a difference.”
Ficko said that there are certain factors that can make crime more or less likely. These include demographic characteristics of the surrounding community, the ratio of male to female students, the number of on-campus residents or the accessibility of outside visitors and size of enrollment, among other factors.
As safe as Fairfield is, however, Ficko acknowledged that certain crimes that occur on campus are bound to slip under the radar.
“Unfortunately, I’m fairly confident that crimes occur which do not get reported,” he said.
Of course, as the 2020 Clery Report only reflects data from 2019, it still remains to be seen how COVID-19, which only began widely circulating in the U.S. in early 2020, has affected crime on campus. Although some experts predicted that certain types of sexual assaults, for instance, would decline nationwide as a result of COVID, it is unclear if this would apply to colleges and universities. Burglaries and robberies also declined substantially during lockdowns, but it is still too soon to say whether college campuses would also see decreases in these types of crimes. Ficko remains hopeful that the number of rapes and burglaries on campus, at least, have decreased in 2020.
“I haven’t looked at the 2020 crime stats as they don’t get submitted until the fall,” Ficko said. “But I’d guess the numbers might be lower, or at least consistent to previous years.”
In any case, Pelazza stressed the importance of remaining vigilant to the possibility of crime on campus and never assuming that Fairfield is immune to such incidents.
“Because we have such a safe campus, some people have the mindset of, ‘nothing can happen here on campus,’” he explained. “We have to remind ourselves that we must always take steps in doing our part to protect ourselves and our community. We can always do better. We must constantly remind ourselves we are not under some kind of protective bubble. Report anything that looks or feels abnormal.”
If you are a victim of any form of violence, please contact any of these numbers:
Counseling & Psychological Services (students only) (203) 254-4000, ext. 2146
Public Safety (203) 254-4090
Fairfield Police Department 911 or (203) 254-4800
(See the 2020 Disclosure for more options to contact for help, both on-campus and off-campus.)