As college visit season approaches and with more state lawmakers debating campus concealed carry bills, students and parents are taking a look at school safety. The U.S. Department of Justice this week released a special report on campus law enforcement, and several ranking systems have lists devoted to campus crime statistics.
In the 2011-2012 school year -- the most recent period for which information is available -- about 75 percent of four-year institutions used armed police officers. That was up from 68 percent in 2004-2005. Most sworn officers were authorized to use sidearms, pepper spray and batons, according to the Justice Department report.
Colleges have upped their security forces after high-profile school shootings such as the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 that ended with 33 deaths. More recently, in November three students were wounded when a gunman opened fire at a Florida State University library in Tallahassee.
According to the Justice Department report, campus law enforcement officials tend to focus their efforts on certain issues. About 90 percent of colleges with 5,000 or more students had officers devoted to rape prevention as well as general crime. Some also had designated personnel for drug and alcohol education and domestic violence.
As far as alerting faculty, students and staff in an emergency, "nearly all" schools had mass notification systems in place, according to the report. Colleges primarily use email and text messages for alerts.
Overall, campus crime is down, Time reported. But this could be skewed -- one big barrier to measuring campus safety is that students tend not to report crimes.
Worried about student safety? Below are the top 10 safest colleges, according to Niche, a ranking and review site. They were judged on crime statistics and students' feelings of safety:
1. Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois
2. Brigham Young University -- Idaho in Rexburg, Idaho
3. Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah
4. Biola University in La Mirada, California
5. Taylor University in Upland, Indiana
6. Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington
7. George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon
8. Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia
9. Boston College in Newton, Massachusetts
10. Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota