Reports of vandalism drop over past 6 years

Vandalism is a hot topic on campus following the recent ransack of Giles Dormitory and other destructive events.

Eddie Hull, dean of residence life and executive director of housing services, said he has witnessed a general increase in the levels of vandalism since he arrived at Duke in 2002 and noted that many of his colleagues at other schools have reported similar trends.

But since 1999 there has been a net decrease in annual reports of crimes related to vandalism, according to statistics provided by the Duke University Police Department.

DUPD does not keep statistics specifically pertaining to vandalism, said Lt. Sara-Jane Raines, administrative services executive officer for DUPD. Under North Carolina law, most incidents fall under the rubric of either injury to real property or injury to personal property-damage to personal effects such as computers or cars. Other related crime categories include damage to landscaping, damage to coin-operated machines and damage to car windows from break-ins.

Statistics provided by DUPD for these five areas from 1999 to 2006 show a net decrease of 68 in reported crimes. In calendar year 1999, 338 reports were tallied, while there were only 270 in 2005. In 2001, however, there was a dramatic spike in the index, with 196 more reports than in 2000.

Despite the overall decline in reports, Hull told Campus Council Feb. 9 that the culture of the University's residence halls is too permissive of vandalism.

"I can't believe you're not absolutely incensed that this is happening on your campus," Hull told the Council after showing photographs of destruction on campus.

Overall, vandalism costs the University about $60,000 every year-about the annual cost of accommodation for five students-although Residence Life and Housing Services' officials said it is sometimes difficult to separate problems caused by wear and tear from those intentionally inflicted.

Potential damages are not included in RLHS' annual budget, Hull said, so any vandalism costs force a reallocation of funds from other programming.

A Feb. 5 incident involved approximately $1,050 worth of damage to Giles. Although the destruction occurred throughout the building, no resident or resident assistant has identified a culprit, despite an investigation by DUPD and a potential fine for all Giles residents if no one is identified by Feb. 20. A paving stone was also thrown over the side of the McClendon Tower walkway in late January.

Hull said such incidents can only be avoided if students hold each other accountable, but he acknowledged that students often find it difficult to stand up to their peers. RLHS' role, he said, is to provide education about how a successful community interacts.

"Universities are very good at wagging the proverbial finger and saying, 'Thou shalt not,'" he said. "I'd much rather talk about what you can do."

Robert Cook-Deegan, research professor at the Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, is a faculty member-in-residence in Alspaugh Dormitory. Two years ago, a poster on his door in Alspaugh was defaced, which led him to send an e-mail he described as "vitriolic" to residents of the dorm. But he said he does not see any broad cultural trend toward vandalism in the student population.

"I was in a freshman dorm a long time ago-it was 1971-and it was at least as bad as today," he said.

In fact, Cook-Deegan said, the students in Alspaugh are less rowdy now than they were even three years ago.

When his poster was vandalized, Cook-Deegan said his impulse was to blame fraternities because the incident occurred during rush. After getting several responses from students addressing the accusation, he changed his mind.

There seems to be little correlation between destruction and fraternity rush and pledging, as the month of January ranks fourth in reports of vandalism.

Both Cook-Deegan and Hull cited alcohol as a major instigator of vandalism.

"It's part of the causal chain, but a lot of students drink and don't do this kind of thing," Cook-Deegan said.

He added that ultimately, students have to take steps to change the dynamic of their residence halls. "I don't even know if there's a policy that can deal with it," he said. "The most important thing is for people to take care of each other."


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