As American students head back to school, many parents will
worry about their children's safety at school during the upcoming
year. School safety will likely be a top concern
of families living in Washington, D.C.
This WebMemo is a summary of a CDA Report by The
Heritage Foundation and Lexington Institute that presents an
analysis of 911 calls originating from schools in D.C. for the
2007-2008 school year, the most recent full school year for which
data were available.
School Safety by the Numbers
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education reported that 11.3
percent of D.C. high school students reported being "threatened or
injured" with a weapon while on school property during the previous
year--a rate well above the national average. A 2009 evaluation
published by the U.S. Department of Education reported that 17
percent of the parents of the first cohort of children
participating in the program listed school safety as their most
important reason for seeking a scholarship.
The CDA Report found:
- In D.C. public schools, there were 912 incidences of violent
crime, 1,338 incidences of property crimes, and 1,250 other
- In D.C. charter schools, there were 17 incidences of violent
crime, 28 incidences of property crimes, and 37 other incidences;
- In D.C. private schools, there were 28 incidences of violent
crime, 131 incidences of property crimes, and 73 other
School Safety in the District of
To help policymakers and the public understand the issue of
school safety in D.C. schools, The Heritage Foundation submitted a
Freedom of Information Act request to the Metropolitan Police
Department (MPD) requesting records of crime incidents in D.C.
public, private, and charter schools. The MPD filled this request
by providing 911 tape data of calls for crime and emergency
incidents at the addresses of D.C. schools. The data presented in
this WebMemo are limited to crime-related incidents reported
to the MPD during the 2007-2008 school year, excluding the summer
months. The figures reflect the level of crime-related incidents
reported to the police during all hours of the day and night during
the 2007-2008 school year.
Incidents of Crime Reported at
While this data set shows that the police department responded
to many fewer calls to charter and private schools, this
information should be interpreted with caution, and readers should
be careful to understand the differences among public, charter, and
private schools when drawing comparisons.
Public Schools. During the 2007-2008 school year, 3,500
incidences of crime were reported to the MPD from D.C. public
schools. These incidents occurred during all days and times during
the school year.
- The 912 violent incidents (1.9 violent incidents per 100
students) included one homicide.
- Simple assault, the most prevalent type of violent incident
reported, accounted for 648 reports (1.3 per 100 students). In
addition, there were 114 aggravated assaults (0.2 per 100
- There were 1,338 incidences of property crime reported (2.9 per
- The most prevalent property incident was theft, of which there
were 446 reported incidents (1.0 per 100 students).
- There were 1,250 incidents of other crime-related activities,
including 461 reported incidents of disorderly conduct (1.0 per 100
- The sound of gunshots was reported in 49 incidents.
Public Charter Schools. During the 2009-2010 school year,
82 incidences of crime were reported to 911 from D.C. charter
schools. These included:
- 17 reported violent incidents (0.08 per 100 students), all of
which were simple assaults;
- 28 incidents of property crime (0.1 per 100 students);
- 21 thefts (0.1 per 100 students), the most prevalent type of
- Three incidents of disorderly conduct (0.01 incidents per 100
- Two reports of gunshots.
Private Schools. During the 2009-2010 school year, 232
incidences of crime were reported to 911 from D.C. private schools.
- 28 violent incidents (0.16 per 100 students);
- 14 simple assaults (0.09 per 100 students), which were the
majority of the reported violent incidents;
- 131 incidents of property crime (0.77 incidents per 100
- 58 thefts (0.35 per 100 students), the most prevalent type of
property incident; and
- 30 incidents of disorderly conduct (0.17 per 100
School Choice and School Safety
One strategy for improving students' ability to attend safe
schools is to give families the opportunity to choose which schools
their children attend. Since 2004, thousands of low-income children
living in the District have attended private school thanks to the
federal D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides
scholarships worth up to $7,500 for private school tuition to
However, Congress and the Obama Administration have taken
several steps that threaten to end the program. For example, the
U.S. Department of Education sent a letter notifying the families
of 216 students who had recently been admitted to the scholarship
program that their children would no longer be eligible for
scholarships. The department's decision to withdraw these
scholarships forced these low-income families to find new schools
for their children for the upcoming school year. Many will likely
have no choice but to attend the assigned public schools in their
The Heritage Foundation obtained a list of the 70 public schools
to which these students have been assigned since the Department of
Education withdrew their Opportunity Scholarships. Overall, these
70 schools for the 2007-2008 school year had many reported
incidents of violence and crime.
- The MPD received reports of 2,379 crime-related incidents from
these schools, including 666 violent incidents (2.7 per 100
students), of which one was a homicide.
- Simple and aggravated assault was the most prevalent violent
incident, consisting of 555 reported assaults (2.3 per 100
- The schools reported 855 property-crime incidents (3.5 per 100
students), including 278 thefts (1.1 incidents per 100
- There were also numerous reports of other crime-related
incidents, including 306 incidents of disorderly conduct (1.3 per
100 students) and 43 reports of gunshots.
What Policymakers Should Do
The CDA Report supports previous evidence that school
crime and violence are problems for many students in the nation's
capital. District and federal policymakers should ensure that all
children have access to a safe learning environment. Policymakers,
school officials, and the MPD should study the best practices of
the safest schools and implement the most effective strategies for
reducing violence and crime throughout the District.
In addition, Congress and D.C. officials should expand school
choice and give more families the power to choose safe and
effective schools for their children. For example, Congress and
D.C. policymakers should reauthorize and expand the D.C.
Opportunity Scholarship Program. This should include allowing new
students to receive scholarships so that more disadvantaged
children can attend private schools.
At the same time, the District of Columbia should maintain its
strong charter school law, authorize infrastructure and support for
charter schools, and encourage the growth of its safest and most
David B. Muhlhausen, Ph.D., is Senior Policy
Analyst in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation.
Don Soifer is Executive Vice President of the Lexington
Institute. Dan Lips is Senior Policy Analyst in Education
in the Domestic Policy Studies Department at The Heritage
School safety was the second-most-cited reason
after school quality. See Patrick Wolf et al., "Evaluation
of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts after Three
Years," U.S. Department of Education, Institute of education
Sciences, March 2009, at http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/2009
4050/pdf/20094050.pdf (August 6, 2009).
First, different policies for handling security
may partially explain the varying levels of reported crime by
school type. For example, the MPD has responsibility for security
for D.C. public schools, while charter schools and private schools
in the District of Columbia have different arrangements for the
provision of school security, including contracting with private
security providers. Second, school administration can influence the
level of crime and disorder that occurs in schools. Schools that
provide students with understandable rules, accompanied by
appropriate rewards and sanctions, appear to have less disorder.
Lastly, criminogenic (risk) factors may explain differences in
reported incidents of crime at these schools. Charter and private
schools may be located in safer neighborhoods than D.C. public
schools. In addition, the students enrolled in charter and private
schools may have behavioral characteristics that are markedly
different from those of students attending public schools.
single homicide was committed at Moten Elementary School on
Wednesday, October 3, 2007. At approximately 9:54 a.m., police were
called to the scene after a body was found near the rear of
Wilkinson Elementary School, where Moten Elementary School was
located. See press release, "Homicide in the Rear of Pomeroy Road,
SE," Metropolitan Police Department, October 3, 2007, at http://newsroom.dc.gov/show.aspx/
agency/mpdc/section/2/release/11937/year/2007 (August 12,