Betsy Hodges, city officials talk crime on campus with students

University police called efforts to combat recent crime on campus a “Band-Aid” and that the department needs more resources.

by Nicolas Hallett

Newly elected city officials visited the University of Minnesota on Tuesday to discuss solutions to crime after a tumultuous fall semester, which saw an uptick in violent crime on or near campus.

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and City Councilmen Jacob Frey, DFL-Ward 3, and Blong Yang, DFL-Ward 5, arrived on campus just days after being sworn into office, accompanied by University administrators and local police.

“I wanted to make sure to be here right away,” Hodges said to the crowd. “So that you know, that your mayor knows, that this relationship [between the city and the University] is an important one.”

Hodges asked the roughly 25 students in attendance to introduce themselves and express their safety concerns to police and city staff.

The students spoke with an overlying theme that many wanted to know what they could do to prevent more students from becoming victims and how they could help to reduce crime. Students also said they felt unsafe walking around campus in groups, wanted more lighting and that leaving technology at home to keep it from being stolen is unrealistic.

On Thursday, an attempted robbery outside of the Dinkytown CVS Pharmacy ended a streak of more than a month without an overnight crime on campus. It was the 17th crime alert sent to the University community for 23 crimes since the beginning of fall semester.

Hodges emphasized synergy between the city and the University, like today’s meeting, as a possible solution to the crime problem.

“The partnership that we have been able to have with the University is very strong,” she said at the meeting. “The stronger we make that, the quicker we can handle this situation and continue those trend lines going down.”

Major criminal offenses on campus continued an 11-year decline in 2013, but the fall semester saw an increase in robberies, according to University police data.

The 25 robberies during fall semester in southeast Minneapolis neighborhoods and on the University campus was the most since 2005, when there were 37.

University police Chief Greg Hestness labeled the efforts they’ve made to decrease the recent pattern of criminal activity since October a “Band-Aid.”

Hestness said he would like more manpower, giving him the ability to put more cops on the streets.

“What if it doesn’t turn down? What if this continues?” he said. “We can keep doing this Band-Aid thing, but I don’t foresee [UMPD] growing in size a lot.”

Without more resources, Hestness said, the best thing they can do is to focus on prevention.

Putting in short-term intense police forces has softened crime spikes in the past, Hodges said, and that may be an option during the spring semester.

But she said continuing strategies in place — like sending crime alerts, and encouraging students to contact police and use the security monitor program and Gopher Chauffeur — will be the plan for now.

“I think that adds up to a sweeping strategy,” she said, “but there’s no silver bullet.”

Minnesota Student Association President Mike Schmit said he was impressed by how quickly newly inaugurated city officials were supporting the University’s efforts.

“It means we are a valuable resource to the city,” he said. “I think it’s really telling of the value the University provides the city. I’m really excited to see that they recognize that.”

Schmit said the meeting will provide a base for future collaboration, but that officials presented little new information about campus crime.

Schmit said it will be interesting to see what moves Hodges makes in the coming months and the effect they have on University safety.

Hodges officially took office Jan. 2 and said before being elected that public safety, along with housing and transportation, were the biggest issues facing the University.

“My goal is that we continue to build a city that people choose to come to and we continue to build a city that you all choose to stay in after you graduate,” she said to the crowd.