The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's annual Crime on Campus report released last week shows crime reported on college campuses and universities last year dropped slightly from 2016 to 2017.
Overall, Tennessee colleges and universities reported a total of 6,194 offenses on their campuses in 2017, a 2.8 percent decrease from the 6,371 offenses seen in 2016.
Some of the largest improvements came from a reduction in assault and theft charges that have consistently made up more than a third of campus crimes reported every year, according to the report. Gains in both areas outweighed a slight increase in drug offenses.
Reported thefts have declined for seven years in a row from a high of 2,926 in 2009 to just 1,657 last year. The majority of that progress comes from a fall-off in the number of thefts from buildings, slashed from almost 1,600 in 2011 to fewer than 750 in 2017. But, gains were blunted by thefts from vehicles which increased to 338, the highest rate seen in five years.
Tennessee campuses have seen a relatively consistent number of assaults over the last decade with the total hovering between 500 and 700 incidents. That total surged to 849 in 2016, but fell to 733 assaults statewide in 2017.
While progress has been made in some areas, the number of reported drug offenses has increased steadily over the last decade, almost doubling from 527 in 2007 to 1,046 last year.
Members of law enforcement can work only with the numbers they have, but Robert Ratchford, chief of police for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said the increase in drug offenses could be a product of improved cooperation between authorities and the public. He said his department has worked hard to boost reporting of all offenses.
"The fact is that due to our community involvement and engagement with stakeholders in the community, there are folks who will let us know now if they see something that doesn't seem right or may be illegal," he said. "You can get involved and be involved by contacting the police department whenever you see something suspicious."
That's a particularly important message on college campuses that host thousands of students, typically 18 to 24 years old. Ratchford said his department has unique resources such as the student life and judicial affairs offices, but the university is "like a city in and of itself."
UTC's numbers mirror trends seen statewide in a handful of areas, but the university did see an uptick in thefts, which jumped from 65 in 2016 to 83 in 2017. Most of that increase stemmed from miscellaneous thefts, including parts stolen off cars.
The university has expanded dramatically over the last several years both in square footage and population, with more than 10,000 students now enrolled. Growth comes with its own challenges, but Ratchford said partnerships with external agencies have helped maintain a high level of service.
"We're just thrilled that the university is growing like that, not only with the number of folks but the footprint, as well. It does increase the workload, but we have been working closely with the city over the years," he said. "All we have to do is pick the phone up and just give them a call."
The TBI does not comment on the findings of the campus crime report, but Director Mark Gwyn said he hopes it will be helpful to stakeholders hoping to drive down crime in their communities.
"This report will hopefully assist law enforcement, institution administrations and government officials in planning their efforts in the fight against crime and continue to create an awareness that crime exists as a threat in our communities," he said in a written statement.
Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at egienapp@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.