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Indicator 6: Violent and Other Criminal Incidents at Public Schools, and Those Reported to the Police
(Last Updated: March 2018)

In 2015–16, about 69 percent of public schools recorded one or more violent incidents, 15 percent recorded one or more serious violent incidents, and 39 percent recorded one or more thefts.

Between 1999–2000 and 2009–10, as well as in 2015–16, the School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS) asked public school principals to provide the number of violent incidents,40 serious violent incidents,41 thefts of items valued at $10 or greater without personal confrontation, and other incidents42 that occurred at their school.43 Public school principals were also asked to provide the number of incidents they reported to police or other law enforcement. This indicator presents the percentage of public schools that recorded one or more of these specified crimes, the total number of incidents recorded, and the rate of incidents per 1,000 students. These data are also presented for crimes that were reported to the police.

During the 2015–16 school year, 79 percent of public schools recorded that one or more incidents of violence, theft, or other crimes had taken place, amounting to 1.4 million crimes (figure 6.1 and table 6.1). This translates to a rate of 28 crimes per 1,000 students enrolled in 2015–16. During the same school year, 47 percent of schools reported one or more of the specified crimes to the police, amounting to 449,000 crimes, or 9 crimes per 1,000 students enrolled.


Figure 6.1. Percentage of public schools recording incidents of crime at school and reporting these incidents to the police, and the rate of crimes per 1,000 students, by type of crime: School year 2015–16

Figure 6.1. Percentage of public schools recording incidents of crime at school and reporting these incidents to the police, and the rate of crimes per 1,000 students, by type of crime: School year 2015–16

1 "Violent incidents" include "serious violent" incidents (see footnote 2) as well as physical attack or fight without a weapon and threat of physical attack without a weapon.
2 "Serious violent" incidents include rape, sexual assault other than rape, physical attack or fight with a weapon, threat of physical attack with a weapon, and robbery with or without a weapon.
3 Theft or larceny (taking things worth over $10 without personal confrontation) was defined for respondents as "the unlawful taking of another person's property without personal confrontation, threat, violence, or bodily harm." This includes pocket picking, stealing a purse or backpack (if left unattended or no force was used to take it from owner), theft from a building, theft from a motor vehicle or motor vehicle parts or accessories, theft of a bicycle, theft from a vending machine, and all other types of thefts.
4 "Other incidents" include possession of a firearm or explosive device; possession of a knife or sharp object; distribution, possession, or use of illegal drugs or alcohol; inappropriate distribution, possession, or use of prescription drugs; and vandalism.
NOTE: Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about crime and safety issues at the school. "At school" was defined to include activities that happen in school buildings, on school grounds, on school buses, and at places that hold school-sponsored events or activities. Respondents were instructed to include incidents that occurred before, during, and after normal school hours or when school activities or events were in session. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding and because schools that recorded or reported more than one type of crime incident were counted only once in the total percentage of schools recording or reporting incidents.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2016.


Not all recorded incidents were reported to the police. In 2015–16, across all types of crime, the percentage of public schools that reported one or more incidents to the police was lower than the percentage of recorded incidents: violent incidents of crime (33 vs. 69 percent), serious violent incidents (10 vs. 15 percent), thefts (18 vs. 39 percent), and other incidents (34 vs. 59 percent). In terms of rates, this translates to 4 violent crimes reported to the police per 1,000 students compared with 18 violent crimes per 1,000 students recorded by schools, less than 1 serious violent incident reported compared with 1 serious violent incident recorded per 1,000 students, 1 theft reported compared with 3 thefts recorded per 1,000 students, and 4 other incidents reported compared with 7 other incidents recorded per 1,000 students.

The percentage of public schools recording one or more incidents of violence, theft, or other crimes was lower in 2015–16 (79 percent) than in every prior survey year (ranging from 85 to 89 percent between 1999–2000 and 2009–10). Similarly, the percentage of public schools that reported one or more incidents of violence, theft, or other crimes to the police was lower in 2015–16 (47 percent) than in every prior survey year (ranging from 60 to 65 percent between 1999–2000 and 2009–10).

For many types of crime, the percentages of public schools recording incidents of crime or reporting incidents of crime to the police were lower in 2015–16 than in 2009–10. For instance, 65 percent of public schools recorded incidents of physical attack or fight without a weapon in 2015–16 compared to 71 percent in 2009–10, and 25 percent reported such incidents to the police in 2015–16 compared with 34 percent in 2009–10.

In 2015–16, the percentage of public schools that recorded incidents of violent crime, serious violent crime, theft, and other incidents varied by school characteristics. For example, 57 percent of primary schools recorded violent incidents compared with 88 percent of middle schools and 90 percent of high schools (figure 6.2 and table 6.2). Similarly, a lower percentage of primary schools recorded serious violent incidents (9 percent) than middle and high schools (23 and 30 percent, respectively), a lower percentage of primary schools recorded incidents of theft (23 percent) than middle and high schools (55 and 76 percent, respectively), and a lower percentage of primary schools recorded other incidents (43 percent) than middle and high schools (77 and 88 percent, respectively).


Figure 6.2. Percentage of public schools recording incidents of crime at school and reporting these incidents to the police, by school level: School year 2015–16

Figure 6.2. Percentage of public schools recording incidents of crime at school and reporting these incidents to the police, by school level: School year 2015–16

1 "Violent incidents" include "serious violent" incidents (see footnote 2) as well as physical attack or fight without a weapon and threat of physical attack without a weapon.
2 "Serious violent" incidents include rape, sexual assault other than rape, physical attack or fight with a weapon, threat of physical attack with a weapon, and robbery with or without a weapon.
3 Theft or larceny (taking things worth over $10 without personal confrontation) was defined for respondents as "the unlawful taking of another person's property without personal confrontation, threat, violence, or bodily harm." This includes pocket picking, stealing a purse or backpack (if left unattended or no force was used to take it from owner), theft from a building, theft from a motor vehicle or motor vehicle parts or accessories, theft of a bicycle, theft from a vending machine, and all other types of thefts.
4 "Other incidents" include possession of a firearm or explosive device; possession of a knife or sharp object; distribution, possession, or use of illegal drugs or alcohol; inappropriate distribution, possession, or use of prescription drugs; and vandalism.
NOTE: Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about crime and safety issues at the school. "At school" was defined to include activities that happen in school buildings, on school grounds, on school buses, and at places that hold school-sponsored events or activities. Respondents were instructed to include incidents that occurred before, during, and after normal school hours or when school activities or events were in session. Primary schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not higher than grade 3 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 8. Middle schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 4 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 9. High schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 9 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 12. Combined schools include all other combinations of grades, including K–12 schools.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2016.


A similar pattern was observed for public schools that reported such incidents of violent crime, serious violent crime, theft, and other incidents to the police. The percentages of primary schools that reported incidents of these types of crime to the police were lower than the percentages of middle schools and high schools (figure 6.2 and table 6.3).

Data on the number of crimes recorded and reported by public schools in 2015–16 were categorized by frequency range as well. For example, 31 percent of schools did not record a violent crime, whereas 14 percent of schools recorded 20 or more violent crimes (figure 6.3 and table 6.4). Sixty-seven percent of schools did not report a violent crime to the police, while 3 percent of schools reported 20 or more violent crimes to the police. With regard to serious violent crimes, 85 percent of schools did not record a serious violent crime, while 1 percent of schools recorded 10 or more such crimes (figure 6.3 and table 6.5). Ninety percent of schools did not report a serious violent crime to the police; in contrast, less than 1 percent of schools reported 10 or more serious violent crimes to the police.


Figure 6.3. Percentage of public schools recording and reporting to the police violent and serious violent incidents of crime, by number of incidents: School year 2015–16

Figure 6.3. Percentage of public schools recording and reporting to the police violent and serious violent incidents of crime, by number of incidents: School year 2015–16

1 "Violent incidents" include "serious violent" incidents (see footnote 2) as well as physical attack or fight without a weapon and threat of physical attack without a weapon.
2 "Serious violent" incidents include rape, sexual assault other than rape, physical attack or fight with a weapon, threat of physical attack with a weapon, and robbery with or without a weapon.
NOTE: Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about crime and safety issues at the school. "At school" was defined for respondents to include activities that happen in school buildings, on school grounds, on school buses, and at places that hold school-sponsored events or activities. Respondents were instructed to include incidents that occurred before, during, or after normal school hours or when school activities or events were in session. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2016.


The number of crimes recorded and reported by schools by frequency range also varied by school characteristics. For instance, a larger percentage of city schools recorded 20 or more violent incidents in 2015–16 (21 percent) than suburban schools and rural schools (14 and 7 percent, respectively; table 6.4). With regard to violent incidents reported to the police, larger percentages of town (4 percent), city (4 percent), and suburban schools (2 percent) reported 20 or more such crimes to the police than rural schools (1 percent). The percentage of schools recording 20 or more violent incidents in 2015–16 was also higher for schools where 76 percent or more of the students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (23 percent) than for schools where a smaller percentage of the students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (ranging from 6 to 14 percent). However, the percentage of schools reporting 20 or more such incidents to the police did not differ measurably by percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.44


This indicator has been updated to include 2015–16 data. For more information: Tables 6.1, 6.2, 6.3, 6.4, 6.5, and Diliberti, Jackson, and Kemp (2017), (https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2017122).


40 "Violent incidents" include serious violent incidents (see footnote 41) as well as physical attack or fight without a weapon and threat of physical attack without a weapon.
41 "Serious violent incidents" include rape, sexual assault other than rape, physical attack or fight with a weapon, threat of physical attack with a weapon, and robbery with or without a weapon.
42 "Other incidents" include possession of a firearm or explosive device; possession of a knife or sharp object; distribution, possession, or use of illegal drugs or alcohol; inappropriate distribution, possession, or use of prescription drugs; and vandalism.
43 "At school" was defined for respondents to include activities that happen in school buildings, on school grounds, on school buses, and at places that hold school-sponsored events or activities. Respondents were instructed to include incidents that occurred before, during, or after normal school hours, or when school activities or events were in session.
44 The percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch programs is a proxy measure of school poverty. For more information on eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch and its relationship to poverty, see NCES blog post "Free or reduced price lunch: A proxy for poverty?"