UMPD unit takes proactive crime approach

The Coordinated Response Team is 2 years old this month.
April 04, 2013

Over a series of nights last month in an Anderson Hall bathroom, five people were arrested for what police deemed “inappropriate activities.”

It wasn’t just by way of a regular patrol stop, though — Police caught them by placing plain clothes officers in the bathroom at night.

The sting was conducted by the University of Minnesota Police Department’s Coordinated Response Team, a specialized unit of four officers who analyze campus crime and use enhanced technology to try and combat it.

In 2011, the team’s first year, crime at the University decreased by about 6 percent. Last year, it dropped by 19 percent.

Though there are several reasons for the crime drop, the CRT has played an important role in reducing on-campus crime, said University Police Sgt. Jim Nystrom, head supervisor of the CRT.

“We’re able to address some of those livability crimes that otherwise would not receive so much attention,” he said. “Sometimes when you take care of some of those smaller issues, the bigger ones never really come about.”

Because it usually doesn’t have to respond to 911 calls like regular patrol officers do, the CRT is more effective in analyzing and addressing crime trends, Nystrom said.

Although it’ll respond to calls when fellow officers need backup, the CRT primarily acts as a “behind-the-scenes” unit.

“I like to think of ourselves as troubleshooters,” he said. “Being free from the 911 calls allows us to really imbed ourselves in what we are doing.”

The CRT first locates “hotspots” on campus by looking at crime maps and getting information on crimes from patrol officers, Nystrom said. Then officers run programs, like surveillance operations, to catch criminals in the act.

For example, in 2011, bicycle theft was a big issue on campus, so the CRT introduced the Bait Bike program. The team equips GPS trackers on “bait bikes” and places them at various locations around campus. If the bikes are stolen, the GPS trackers can lead the CRT officers directly to the thief.

The program, which still exists, resulted in about 35 arrests for bike theft last year alone, Nystrom said. In total, all types of theft on campus declined nearly 15 percent from 2011-12.

The operations are effective because they allow police to actually catch more offenders, said University police Lt. Troy Buhta, who commands the investigations and outreach branch of the department.

Instead of simply reacting to a crime and hoping the investigation leads them to the criminal, he said the operations allow the officers to make an arrest and witness the crime taking place.

“It gives the bad guys a chance to come to us rather than the other way around,” Buhta said.

Before the CRT was established, University police had a difficult time keeping track of crime trends on campus, so the department spent more time responding to crimes than preventing them, said University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner.

In addition, University police rarely took advantage of technology like GPS trackers until the CRT came along, he said.

“They keep evolving with the technology,” Miner said.

But catching the criminals is just one part of the job, Nystrom said. The team also works with University staff members to investigate the causes of crime and continue to work on prevention.

“There’s a lot of social engineering that occurs with us,” he said. “If we’re able to draw attention to a problem through our operations, others become aware of what goes on.”

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