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Education Statistics Quarterly
Vol 1, Issue 1, Topic: Elementary/Secondary Education
Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 1998
By: Phillip Kaufman, Xianglei Chen, Susan P. Choy, Kathryn A. Chandler, Christopher D. Chapman, Michael R. Rand, and Cheryl Ringel
This article was originally published as the Highlights section of the report of the same name. The report is a joint effort of the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The numerous data sources are listed at the end of this article.

Schools should be safe and secure places for all students, teachers, and staff members. Without a safe learning environment, teachers cannot teach and students cannot learn. Recent efforts by schools, local authorities, and the state and federal governments have prompted the nation to focus on improving the safety of American schools. It is the hope that all children will be able to go to and from school and be at school without fearing for their safety or the safety of their friends and teachers. Judging progress toward providing safer schools requires establishing good indicators on the current state of school crime and safety, and periodically monitoring and updating these indicators.

This report, the first in a series of annual reports on school crime and safety from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), presents the latest available data on school crime and student safety. The report provides a profile of school crime and safety in the United States and describes the characteristics of school crime victims. It is organized as a series of indicators that present data on different aspects of school crime and safety.

The indicators rely on data collected by a variety of federal departments and agencies, including BJS, NCES, the National Center for Health Statistics, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because the report relies on so many different data sets, the age groups and the time periods analyzed can vary from indicator to indicator. Readers should keep this in mind as they compare data from different indicators. Furthermore, while every effort has been made to keep key definitions consistent across indicators, different surveys sometimes use different definitions, such as those for specific crimes and "at school." Therefore, caution should be used in making comparisons between results from different data sets.

There are five sections to the report: Nonfatal Student Victimization--Student Reports; Violence and Crime at School--Public School Principal/Disciplinarian Reports; Violent Deaths at School; Nonfatal Teacher Victimization at School--Teacher Reports; and School Environment. Each section contains a set of indicators that, taken as a whole, describe a distinct aspect of school crime and safety. Some of the key findings from each section are summarized below.

In 1996, students ages 12 through 18 were victims of about 255,000 incidents of nonfatal serious violent crime at school and about 671,000 incidents away from school. These numbers indicate that when students were away from school they were more likely to be victims of nonfatal serious violent crime--including rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault--than when they were at school.

  • The percentages of 12th-graders who have been injured (with or without a weapon) at school have not changed notably over the past 20 years, although the percentages who have been threatened with injury (with or without a weapon) show a very slight overall upward trend.

  • In 1996, 5 percent of all 12th-graders reported that they had been injured with a weapon such as a knife, gun, or club during the past 12 months while they were at school (that is, inside or outside the school building or on a school bus). Twelve percent reported that they had been injured on purpose without a weapon while at school.

  • Students were differentially affected by crime according to where they lived. In 1996, 12- through 18-year-old students living in urban areas were more vulnerable to serious violent crime than were students in suburban and rural areas, both at and away from school. However, student vulnerability to theft in 1996 was similar in urban, suburban, and rural areas, both at and away from school.
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In the 1996-97 school year, 10 percent of all public schools reported at least one serious violent crime to the police or a law enforcement representative. Principals' reports of serious violent crimes included murder, rape or other type of sexual battery, suicide, physical attack or fight with a weapon, or robbery. Another 47 percent of public schools reported a less serious violent or nonviolent crime (but not a serious violent one). Crimes in this category include physical attack or fight without a weapon, theft or larceny, and vandalism. The remaining 43 percent of public schools did not report any of these crimes to the police.

  • Elementary schools were much less likely than either middle or high schools to report any type of crime in 1996-97. They were much more likely to report vandalism (31 percent of elementary schools) than any of the other crimes (19 percent or less; figure A).

  • At the middle and high school levels, physical attack or fight without a weapon was generally the most commonly reported crime in 1996-97 (9 and 8 per 1,000 students, respectively). Theft or larceny was more common at the high school than the middle school level (6 versus 4 per 1,000 students).
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Seventy-six students were murdered or committed suicide at school1during the combined 1992-93 and 1993-94 school years (the latest period for which data are available). Nonstudent violent deaths also occurred at school. During this period, there were 105 violent deaths at school, 29 of which involved nonstudents.

  • Most murders and suicides among young people occurred while they were away from school. During the combined 1992 and 1993 calendar years, a total of 7,357 young people ages 5 through 19 were murdered in all locations, and 4,366 committed suicide.

  • Students in urban schools had a higher risk of violent death at school than their peers in suburban or rural schools. The estimated rate of school-associated violent death for students in urban schools was nine times greater than the rate for students in rural schools and two times greater than that for students in suburban schools during the combined 1992-93 and 1993-94 school years.

Figure A.-Percentage of public schools reporting one or more criminal incidents to police, by type of crime and instructional level:  1996-97

NOTE: Examples of weapons are guns, knives, sharp-edged or pointed objects, baseball bats, frying pans, sticks, rocks, and bottles. Schools were asked to report crimes that took place in school buildings, on school buses, on school grounds, and at places holding school-sponsored events.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Fast Response Survey System, "Principal/School Disciplinarian Survey on School Violence," FRSS 63, 1997. (Originally published as figure 7.1 on p. 16 of the complete report from which this article is excerpted.)

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During the 5-year period from 1992 to 1996, teachers were victims of 1,581,000 nonfatal crimes at school, including 962,000 thefts and 619,000 violent crimes (rape or sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated and simple assault). This translates into about 316,000 nonfatal crimes per year during this period.

  • In the period from 1992 to 1996, middle and junior high school teachers were more likely to be victims of violent crime (most of which were simple assaults) than senior high school teachers, who in turn were more likely to be victims of violent crime than elementary school teachers.

  • In the 1993-94 school year, 12 percent of all elementary and secondary school teachers were threatened with injury by a student, and 4 percent were physically attacked by a student. This represents about 341,000 teachers who were victims of threats of injury by students and 120,000 teachers who were victims of attacks by students that year.
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Between 1989 and 1995, there were increases in the percentages of students feeling unsafe while they were at school and while they were going to and from school. In 1989, 6 percent of students ages 12 through 19 sometimes or most of the time feared they were going to be attacked or harmed at school. By 1995, this percentage had risen to 9 percent (figure B). During the same period, the percentage of students fearing they would be attacked while traveling to and from school rose from 4 percent to 7 percent.

  • Between 1989 and 1995, the percentage of students ages 12 through 19 who avoided one or more places at school for fear of their own safety increased, from 5 percent to 9 percent. In 1995, this percentage represented 2.1 million students.

  • Between 1989 and 1995, the percentage of students who reported that street gangs were present at their schools increased. In 1989, 15 percent of students reported gangs being present at their schools. By 1995, this percentage had risen to 28 percent.

  • There was a decline between 1993 and 1996 in the percentage of male high school seniors who reported carrying a weapon to school at least 1 day within the 4 weeks before the survey, from 14 percent in 1993 to 9 percent in 1996. However, there was little change in the percentage of female students who reported doing so (from 2 to 3 percent).

  • Although 12th-graders were less likely to use alcohol at school than at home or at parties, in 1996 about 8 percent of 12th-graders had consumed alcohol at school in the past 12 months.

  • The percentage of 12th-graders who had taken various illegal drugs at school in the previous 12 months declined between 1976 and 1992. However, since 1992, use of marijuana and stimulants at school has increased.

Figure B.-Percentage of students ages 12 through 19 who reported fearing being attacked or harmed at school, by race-ethnicity:  1989 and 1995

NOTE: Includes students who reported that they sometimes or most of the time feared being victimized in this way. "At school" means in the school building, on the school grounds, or on a school bus.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 1989 and 1995. (Originally published as figure 12.1 on p. 30 of the complete report from which this article is excerpted.)

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1 For this indicator, "at school" includes on school property, on the way to or from school, and while attending or traveling to or from an official school-sponsored event.

Data sources:
NCES: The School Safety and Discipline component of the 1993 National Household Education Survey (NHES); the Teacher Questionnaire from the 1993-94 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS); and the Principal/School Disciplinarian Survey on School Violence, conducted through the Fast Response Survey System (FRSS 63, 1997).

Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS): The 1992-96 (annual) National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).

Joint NCES and BJS: The 1989 and 1995 School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey.

Other: The 1993, 1995, and 1997 National School-Based Youth Risk Behavior Survey (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]); the 1976-96 (annual) Monitoring the Future Survey (the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research); the FBI's 1992 and 1993 Supplementary Homicide Reports; the CDC's 1992 and 1993 Vital Statistics of the United States; and the following article:

Kachur, S.P., et al. (1996). School-Associated Violent Deaths in the United States, 1992 to 1994. Journal of the American Medical Association 275(22): 1729-1733.

For technical information, see the complete report:
Kaufman, P., Chen, X., Choy, S.P., Chandler, K.A., Chapman, C.D., Rand, M.R., and Ringel, C. (1998). Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 1998 (NCES 98-251 or NCJ 172215).

Author affiliations: P. Kaufman, X. Chen, and S.P. Choy are affiliated with MPR Associates, Inc.; K.A. Chandler and C.D. Chapman, with NCES; and M.R. Rand and C. Ringel, with BJS.

For questions about content, contact either Kathryn Chandler at NCES ( or Michael Rand at BJS (

To obtain the complete report (NCES 98-251 or NCJ 172215), call the toll-free ED Pubs number (877-433-7827), visit the NCES Web Site (, or contact the BJS Clearinghouse at 1-800-732-3277.

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