Crime at Madison

vandalism done to bathroom in WUU

Over 400 dollars of damage done to a bathroom in the Warren University Union

Madison College faced very little major crime in the 1970s.  Most of the issues that Campus Police had to deal with were petty thefts and vandalism, and even those tended to decline a bit throughout the decade.  This is especially impressive when taken in light of the growth of the College, which would be expected to raise crime rates.

Theft was a major problem on campus, especially in the earlier part of the decade.  Students would often leave cash and valuables out in plain sight, and would neglect to lock their rooms when they left.  Most of the thefts that occurred at Madison were of this nature. Chief of Police Jay Crider stated that most of the thefts were the result of “carelessness” (“Thefts, Larcenies Increase While Vandalism Declines”).  Also, many students stole cups and pitchers from the Warren Campus Center.

The decline in theft can be attributed to two different things.  For some thefts, especially stealing cups from the Warren Campus Center, the presence of the Campus Cadets at the Center and around campus prevented people from committing the crime in the first place.  The Breeze, the campus newspaper, also helped prevent theft by reporting on thefts that occurred on campus, and advising students to keep their rooms locked and their valuables hidden.  A Breeze article states that their information has been so effective that the Campus Cadets are not really even necessary. Although it is unlikely that the Breeze deserves quite that much credit, it was certainly an effective tool and a factor in the lower theft rates.

Vandalism was also an issue at Madison.  The main targets of vandalism were the vending machines in residence halls.  This was also a very expensive brand of vandalism, that involved actual repair work needing to be done, not just a new coat of paint in a bathroom.  There were also some acts of vandalism that went beyond what one might readily expect. The damage done to the men’s bathroom in the Warren Campus Center was fairly extreme(“Vandalism”).

More serious crimes happened very rarely at Madison, and when they did happen they were often perpetrated by outsiders.  Students did not tend to be involved except as victims.  For example, two assaults that occurred in 75 were both committed by non-students, against students. There were even no instances of rape reported on campus in the 1970s. This does not mean that it never occurred, but the rate can be assumed to be fairly low if none were ever reported, and even in the city of Harrisonburg there was only one reported case since 1976(Elmore “Rapes Not a Threat Here”).

article entitled "complaints about students low"

Neighbors of off-campus students rarely had problems with them.

Not only were students not involved in serious crimes on campus, they were rarely involved with the Harrisonburg Police at all.  In 1975 the number of crimes committed by Madison students in Harrisonburg was so low that Police Chief Richard Presgrave did not even think it worth mentioning.  There were also very few complaints about off campus students by Harrisonburg residents, even including fraternities (Brown).

Despite the usual strain of town-gown relations, the main problems with crime seem to come from outsiders to the community.  Strangers seem to have been the main threat to campus security.  This problem got so bad that in 1979 the university made a point to begin enforcing a rule that said that they could ask any non-student without a specific reason to be on campus to leave.  The rule had always existed, but had not been strictly enforced until then(Carlson).  Even some of the issues with vandalism and theft could be attributed to outsiders.  This is not to say that students never committed crimes, even major ones.  Several students were arrested on drug related charges in the 70s, and one student stole items worth $975 total from the Duke Fine Arts building, but the main issue in the eyes of the public came from outside the university, and in many cases outside even the larger Harrisonburg community(O’Leary “Theft, Vandalism Decrease Here”).


Works Cited:

Brown, Frank. “Complaints About Students Low,” The Breeze, 7 November 1975, p.4.

Carlson, Kris. “Outsiders May Be Asked to Leave,” The Breeze, 20 March 1979, p.4.

Elmore, Cindy. “Rapes Not A Threat Here, Campus Police Say,” The Breeze, 2 October 1979, p.1.

O’Leary, Timothy. “H’burg, Campus Enforces Drug Laws,”  The Breeze, 2 September 1975, p.9.

O’Leary Timothy. “Theft, Vandalism Decrease Here,” The Breeze, 12 December 1975, p.1.

“Thefts, Larcenies Increase While Vandalism Declines” The Breeze, 21 January 1977, p.5.

“Vandalism,” The Breeze, 30 November 1979, p.1.