UCLA is a very safe campus located in a famously low-crime area of Los Angeles. You wouldn’t know this from a story on the website Business Insider that runs under the misleading headline, "The 25 Most Dangerous Colleges In America."
The story puts UCLA at the top of the list. That mysterious, erroneous claim came as a shock at UCLA, especially to the officials who report crime statistics to the FBI every year. They knew immediately that the story was way off. It got us wondering how Business Insider could get it so wrong.
It turns out that what Business Insider reports as "crimes on college campuses" is not that at all. The statistics used by the website use crime reports taken by University of California police based at UCLA. Problem is, UCLA police take crime reports from a wide area: the campus itself, the neighboring residential and business districts of Westwood, West Los Angeles and beyond, and from UCLA medical centers and clinics around Los Angeles County, which has a population of more than nine million people. The statistics cited by Business Insider paint a picture of a much larger urban area than just the campus.
Westwood, where UCLA is located, consistently ranks as one of the communities most free of crime in all of Los Angeles County. The Los Angeles Times publishes analyses of serious crimes and, for the latest six-month period, notes that Westwood has one of the region's lowest rates of violent crime – 186th out of 209 communities mapped, many of them small rural enclaves. That’s the reality in UCLA’s neighborhood.
We don't know how misleading Business Insider’s rankings may be for other campuses. But comparing an aggregation of crime reports from UCLA’s many facilities around the Los Angeles urban area to those from a single, contained campus is trying to mix apples with oranges. The Business Insider list is heavily weighted toward public institutions. In fact, large private instutions such as Stanford, New York University, University of Southern California, University of Chicago, Princeton and many others were left out of the exercise completely, since their crime reports are not aggregated by the FBI in the same way as data from UCLA and other schools.
Not exactly an accurate picture of crime on or around U.S. college campuses. News media that have looked at Business Insider's flawed approach have come away as baffled as we did. Here is a sampling:
'Dangerous UCLA' and other problematic rankings (Los Angeles Times)
UCLA Disputes Being Ranked 'Most Dangerous' in U.S. (KTLA Los Angeles)
It’s easy to see how Business Insider could make this mistaken leap, by grabbing FBI summary data and not digging into what the data actually include and exclude. Nowhere does the FBI suggest its raw data indicates campus "danger." A phone call or email would have helped get the story right. We would encourage the site's editors to try that next time.
Meanwhile, for accurate data on crimes reported on the UCLA campus and at facilities off campus, the UCLA police publish the federally mandated Clery Report each year. Safety is a top priority at UCLA facilities, and everyone in the campus community — students, faculty, staff, visitors — is encouraged to report all crimes.
Updated Nov. 27, 2012