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River Falls named among top 50 safest college towns

Falcon News Service

September 24, 2015

A home security advice website has ranked River Falls as one of the 50 safest college towns in the U.S.

The Sept. 8 article published on SafeWise.com lists River Falls as the country’s 48th safest college town. SafeWise researchers used 2013 FBI statistics to discover the amounts of crimes committed in towns containing at least one college. Those numbers were factored in with the town’s population to get a comparable ratio between towns. SafeWise also considered the existence of programs concerned with wellbeing.

“The town and its residents emphasize a holistic approach to safety, in which the arts and culture contribute to the overall well-being of the area,” writes the article’s author, Mike Strayer. “The University of Wisconsin-River Falls serves as a cultural hub for the region, offering exceptional academic programs in the arts as well as performances and exhibits open to the community.”

While placing 48th in a top 50 list may seem underwhelming, it should be noted that there are a total of 4,706 four- and two-year colleges in the U.S. Not every college is in its own town, so the above number does not give an exact quantity of college towns. However, this gives a very rough estimate. If there were just one-third as many college towns in the country as there are colleges, this list would place River Falls in the top 4 percent.

“I’m happy any time we can get recognized for having a safe community,” said River Falls Chief of Police Roger Leque. “I can point to several areas that contribute to the safety.” Leque singled out law enforcement — both the River Falls Police Department (RFPD) and UWRF’s on-campus department — as well as a healthy community aspect of the town which contributed to the safety provided by River Falls.

Leque stressed that, while the police specialize in crime prevention, he sees the local police forces as being deeply ingrained with the community, going so far to describe the two as “partners.”

When asked what the RFPD has worked on in the past that may contribute to River Falls’ safety, Leque responded that the department does its best to stay involved in the community through meetings and participation in city events.

The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) data — published by the FBI — for crime reported to the River Falls Police Department (RFPD) in the year 2012 showed a reported 47 violent crimes and three cases of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter. This was the highest occurrence of both crimes since 1985, the furthest back the UCR data reach. A case of murder or nonnegligent manslaughter had not been reported anywhere from 1985 until 2011, when one occurred. Aggravated assault rates also reached a record high in 2012.

According to an FBI guide to using UCR data, they “are sometimes used to compile rankings of individual jurisdictions and institutions of higher learning. These incomplete analyses have often created misleading perceptions which adversely affect geographic entities and their residents.” The FBI adds that it “has a long-standing policy against ranking participating law enforcement agencies on the basis of crime data alone. Despite repeated warnings against these practices, some data users continue to challenge and misunderstand this position.”

The guide mentions “factors that are known to affect the volume and type of crime occurring from place to place.” Some of these include population density, crime reporting practices of the citizenry, and citizens’ attitudes towards crime.

According to SafeWise, it uses FBI crime data in conjunction with other information gathered by its own researchers. SafeWise also took into account population density — one worry of the FBI about validity — to make the rankings more accurate.

Leque encourages residents who observe suspicious or dangerous behavior, or directly witness or experience a crime, to call 911 for help whenever possible.