Following a spike in crime last fall that worried students, administrators and legislators, the number of violent crimes near campus this spring is far below that of previous years.
While police and administrators tout the University of Minnesota’s response to the crime as the reason for the decline, they warn that the community should remain vigilant.
The University Police Department sent 16 crime alerts for 22 crimes last semester, compared with only three alerts for three crimes so far this semester.
University police lieutenant Troy Buhta attributed the lull in crime to the school’s recent multi-pronged safety initiative, which received $4.1 million in University funding in February.
Though he partially credited the dip in crime to the “frozen tundra” that campus has been in over the last few months, Buhta said he’s pleased with the University’s response and confident that the improvements will have a lasting impact on campus safety.
University police regularly meet with their Minneapolis counterparts to determine how to best work together, Buhta said.
“We’ll continue to watch the trends and adjust our resources accordingly,” he said.
Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Danita Brown Young said many students she spoke to last fall were worried about how to keep themselves safe.
This spring, students have told her that they feel more comfortable on campus, citing the expanded services of Gopher Chauffeur and the Security Monitor Program.
“Students have seen the improvements and feel safer,” she said.
University administrators recently met with a group of landlords from around campus, Brown Young said, but safety projects are in the planning phase.
“We’re not competitors with one another,” she said. “We’re concerned about the overall safety of our students.”
But Brown Young stressed that while crime has cooled down, it’s important for the University not to grow complacent.
“No matter if we had an uptick or a downtick in crime, we always need to be concerned about the safety of our students,” she said.
Taylor Severson was concerned about crime last fall, but the public health and gender, women and sexuality studies junior said she’s started to feel more comfortable.
University programs have made a difference, Severson said, but the largest factor is increased student awareness. Crime alerts and other communication from the University keep students informed and help them realize they need to be more aware of their personal safety, Severson said.
Nursing student Brenna O’Toole said the frequent University emails made her more cautious, but she thinks students eventually become jaded from overexposure.
When she gets a crime alert, O’Toole said she usually skips over it.
Vice President for University Services Pamela Wheelock attributed the fall’s uptick in crime to a “dramatic increase in population” in the University area, as well as the marketability of technology like smartphones, which made students targets for theft.
The potential for crime isn’t going to change any time soon, Wheelock said, which means the University’s solutions need to be permanent.
“We’ve made good progress, but we can’t take that for granted,” she said.
University police are working to reduce crime in new ways, Wheelock said.
Police Chief Greg Hestness testified at the state Legislature in February in support of a “kill switch” bill, which would allow stolen phones to be deactivated remotely. Wheelock said she supports any measure that would make stolen technology less valuable.
University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said he’s seen progress in cutting down thefts near campus, and Minneapolis police have seen an increase in burglaries from electronics stores in other parts of the city.
“We feel that our efforts have scared them away to other parts of town,” he said.
Miner said University police will continue to staff officers for overtime robbery suppression detail this spring.
Wheelock said she’s proud of the University’s police and security monitors but that the University can’t rely completely on enforcement — students should also take responsibility for their personal safety, she said.
Wheelock said she thinks the University’s strong response has communicated to potential thieves that the University is taking safety seriously.
“You certainly want them to know that there’s increased police presence,” she said.