What I Learned about Crime on Campus

Campus Chiefs of Police Paul Ronka and Dave McCoy spoke at our Sisters in Crime - Central Virginia meeting this week about crime on campus. And yes, someone did ask, "where's the best place to hide a body" on a college campus.

Here's what I learned from both of them. One serves a commuter campus with three locations in Central Virginia, while the other serves a larger private college, where most of the students live on campus.

  • If you're writing a mystery about college life, most incidents happen in the wee hours.
  • While most of what they deal with are parking, stolen items, underage drinking, narcotics, and sexual assaults, their officers are now trained to deal with active shooter or hostage scenarios. They conduct regular training with students and faculty. Life has changed for law enforcement after Columbine. The strategy used to be to set up a perimeter, wait for the SWAT team, and try to engage the shooter in negotiations. Now, the focus is for the first officers on scene to do a tactical entry and locate the shooter.
  • When events occur on campus, their officers are involved with the investigation, but they also involve the local police, state police, FBI, and Homeland Security, as needed.
  • Chief McCoy's campus requires study abroad for many of its students, so he is often called upon to worth with the state department and law enforcement agencies in other countries when incidents or crimes occur involving students from his campus.
  • Both are also responsible for emergency training and drills for earthquakes, hurricanes, and other catastrophic events. They have a variety of tools and alert systems for emergency notifications.
  • After the horrific college campus shootings, colleges in Virginia now have Threat Assessment Teams to evaluate and investigate safety concerns and incidents. These teams determine the best plan of action for the safety of the campus and the students involved.
  • If you're a writer, you need to check out Yik Yak. It's an anonymous site where people (usually college) students in about a mile-radius of your location post comments about all kinds of topics.

Neither officer gave us the "best place to hide a body," but they did talk about maintenance tunnels, steam tunnels, and rooftops. I'm sure there are lots of interesting locations on a college campus...

l - r: Dave McCoy, Cynthia Price, and Paul Ronka