Though reports of crime on Tennessee college campuses rose in the past year, they have not returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to a report from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
The most commonly reported crime on campuses across Tennessee in 2022 was theft, the report showed, as it has been for the past several years. According to the TBI, there was a 20.5% increase in reported thefts in 2022 from 2021.
Reports of assaults and drug offenses on campuses also rose in 2022, according to the TBI.
The report showed rapes reported on campuses across the state fell by more than half during that time, from 42 in 2021 to 20 last year.
But levels of reported crime on college campuses are low in general, compared to reports from the state's general population, officials said.
In total, 4,729 reports were made to university law enforcement in 2022, according to the TBI report. That's up by nearly 1,000 from the year before, though still about 1,000 fewer than in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic sent students away from campus.
That means that small fluctuations in the number of crimes that get reported to campus law enforcement can appear like big changes, Shawn Haas, assistant director of public safety at Southern Adventist University, said by phone.
Crime on campuses seems to peak in September and October, according to the report, as students come back from summer break.
"They get settled in, they feel kind of comfortable," Tyler Allen, interim director of campus security at Lee University, said by phone. "That's when we see a lot of crime."
The relationship between victim and offender was listed for about 14% of crimes reported on campuses in 2022. Of those, it was most common for the victim and offender to be acquaintances, in 41% of listed cases. Intimate relationships accounted for about 15% of those listed.
Offenders were listed as strangers in about 13% of non-sex offenses and 5% of sex offenses, according to the report. TBI said in the report those numbers are contrary to widely held beliefs about campus crime.
A spokesperson for TBI said the agency collects the data but does not analyze it.
"The report is designed to assist law enforcement, institution administrations and government officials in planning their efforts in the fight against crime," spokesperson Susan Niland said in an email.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga saw the highest rates of reported theft among Hamilton County college campuses in 2022, though it declined from the year before. UTC police received 93 reports of theft in 2022 compared to 169 in 2021. Reports of vandalism on campus also declined from 32 in 2021 to 23 last year.
Most thefts are from cars or apartments left unlocked, Robie Robinson, assistant vice chancellor for emergency services at UTC, said by phone.
But not all crimes on college campuses are reported to campus police. Some are directly reported to municipal law enforcement, such as Chattanooga or Collegedale police, and others go unreported, officials said.
Haas said Southern's campus safety officers, unlike those at UTC and other schools, are not sworn police officers and can't file charges on their own.
"We encourage and support handing any crime off to the Collegedale Police Department," Haas said. "We leave that up to the victim, but we always offer and even go so far as to make the call for them if they want."
The Collegedale campus has been the site of multiple stalking cases in recent years. In 2022, four cases of stalking were reported to campus officers compared to one in 2021. Haas said most instances of stalking on campus occurs between people who know each other, not strangers.
"Obviously, we want zero," Haas said.
Haas said thefts on Southern's campus are typically crimes of opportunity, such as a tent being stolen while left out to dry. Seventeen thefts were reported on the Collegedale campus last year, according to the TBI. Of the 16 reports of vandalism on campus in 2022, Haas said most were related to people driving cars over university lawns.
Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, saw a sharp increase in thefts -- reporting 42 in 2022 versus 24 in 2021. Eight cars were reported stolen on campus last year, compared to five in 2021.
Allen, the interim security director at the university, said being a residential campus where many students live and keep cars full-time leaves more opportunities for crimes like theft.
UTC and Southern are also largely residential colleges. Rates of reported crime were significantly lower at campuses where most students commute, including Chattanooga and Cleveland State Community colleges.
Chattanooga State reported nine thefts on its campus in 2022, compared to seven in 2021. At Cleveland State, one theft was reported last year, down from six the year before.