University police awarded a University of Minnesota student a citizen’s award for helping officers identify two robbery suspects last month.
Michael Zenker, a civil engineering junior, accepted the award from University police Chief Greg Hestness on Thursday during a ceremony at the University Transportation and Safety Building.
“I was really surprised,” Zenker said. “[Receiving an award] didn’t even cross my mind.”
Two University police officers nominated Zenker for the award after he helped them apprehend two robbery suspects on Oct. 27.
The victim of the robbery, who preferred not to be named, said he was walking home from the Dinkytown McDonald’s around 5 p.m. when he noticed the suspects following him. He said one of the suspects, a 16-year-old male, came up from behind and began hitting him.
Zenker said he was walking near the intersection of University Avenue and 15th Avenue when he saw a man attacking a University student. He then saw the student overpower his attacker, but two women took the student’s iPhone and ran off, he said.
University police nearby noticed the fight between the victim and the suspect and arrived on the scene to break it up, the victim said. But once they realized the suspect was attempting to rob the victim, they arrested the male suspect at the scene.
Zenker said he followed the two women and eventually found them hiding in some bushes. He questioned them about the iPhone but said they denied knowing anything about it.
“I was very nonthreatening,” Zenker said. “I talked to them like I was a peer, not an authority figure.”
He said he began to search the bushes for the phone while the suspects remained on the scene. When University police arrived, he identified the two women as the suspects who had taken the phone. The police found the iPhone in the bushes shortly afterward, he said.
Two of the three suspects were juveniles, according to a University police report, and all were arrested on suspicion of felony robbery of a person.
Although he could have avoided getting involved in the situation, Zenker said he felt he needed to help the victim because stolen items are rarely recovered.
“It was either I followed them or the iPhone was gone,” Zenker said.
Police appreciate any help they can get from citizens when they make arrests but recommend that people keep a safe distance and remain cautious when witnessing a crime, said University police Lt. Troy Buhta.
“In no way do we want people to put themselves in harm’s way,” Buhta said. “But if you can be a good witness for us, that’s what we’re looking for.”
He said University police grant citizen’s awards about six times a year, and the awards are usually reserved for witnesses who “go the extra mile” to help police catch suspects.
When University police notified Zenker he had won the award, he said he was glad to be recognized for his efforts.
“It feels great and really puts things in perspective,” he said. “There’s stuff like this that happens all the time, and if people just do their part, it makes that much of a difference.”