Crime rates in Topeka are rising: How students are affected

Violent crime in Topeka increased from 2016-2017, according to a report released by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation Aug. 17.

The 2017 Kansas Crime Index Report showed that violent crime, which includes crimes such as murder, rape and robbery, in the city increased from 734 incidents to 802, a 9.26 percent increase. Kansas as a whole saw an increase of 6.3 percent.

These statistics come from reporting from law enforcement agencies within the state, including the Topeka Police and Washburn University Police Departments.

“We all report up to the KBI,” said Chris Enos, chief of WUPD. “The KBI…is the clearinghouse for all the reporting data in Kansas.”

Enos noted that the data is based on calendar year and not academic year. In addition to what is reported to the KBI, colleges and universities in the United States who are a part of federal financial aid programs are also required to release an annual report of crime statistics as part of what is known as the Clery Act.

“Our [Clery] data for 2017 has not been published yet,” Enos said. “It comes out in October.”

The annual report also includes information on domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, hate crimes and liquor, drug and weapons violations.

One piece of the Clery data that Enos is looking at closely is the trend in drug and liquor violations, which appear to be rising.

“In 2014, we had 14 liquor law violations,” Enos said. “In 2016, we had 36. In drug law violations, we had 10 in 2014 and in 2016 we had 22, so a 100 percent increase in drug violations.”

Enos pointed to a national trend as a possible reason for this increase.

“The marijuana culture has definitely kind of taken over a little bit,” Enos said.

While all of these stats might seem perilous, one professor noted that sweeping data is not necessarily what students need to know.

“I don’t think that city-wide stats are going to be beneficial,” said Erin Grant, assistant professor and graduate program director in the criminal justice and legal studies department at Washburn.

Grant said that if students see that crime rates have gone up, they aren’t necessarily looking at the whole picture.

“Looking at within a mile radius of campus would be the best bet,” Grant said.

Grant said that she believes that a better resource for students might be things such as geographic information systems maps. Maps such as the Shawnee County Sheriff’s Office Crime Map can allow students to look at areas where they live, shop, run, bike or anything thing else and see what crimes have occurred.

Grant does believe that annual reporting from Washburn is still important.

“There should be much more clarity,” Grant said. “People need to know what’s going on on campus.”

She said that by being more clear about what crimes occur, it gives students more information and could keep misinformation and rumors from flowing. Noting an incident that happened a few years ago at Carole Chapel, Grant said that more clarity and transparency would have been better for the students.

“We heard about [it] from the newspaper,” Grant said. “We found out, we talked about in my class and I heard five different stories from different people.”

Grant said that when it comes to crimes like sexual assault, she hopes that movements like #MeToo and others empower people to come forward, but knows that some instances might not be reported for various reasons.

Another aspect that Grant thinks could be a factor is the concealed carry laws in the state, which allows most people over the age of 21 to carry a handgun on Washburn’s campus.

“If kids start thinking…that crime is increasing I’m sure there’s going to be an underlying fear that people are going to bring guns to campus more.”

Grant said that a lot for factors play into what crime really is and how these stats work. She talked about things like the economy, the size of police forces and how much the force can patrol and other factors all need to be accounted.

“Think about all the unreported crimes,” Grant said. “[These numbers are] just the reported crimes.”

Overall, it is hard to pinpoint an exact thing about crime rates, why they rise or fall and how this change affects students.