Cop per student ratio small

The University has less than one officer per 1,000 students on campus.

Kevin Behr

Now that thousands of students have returned to campus, University police are feeling the strain.

The University has the highest student population in the Big Ten and the fewest campus police per student, according to police statistics.

The University Police Department employs 45 officers, said University police Lt. Charles Miner. With a student population of about 52,000, that’s more than 1,000 students for every officer.

In addition to students, University police are responsible 13,000 University faculty and staff members, 270 buildings and anyone who just happens to be passing through, Miner said. “It’s a challenge.”

Jeff Abbott, an English literature senior, thought the number of campus police was “unbelievable.”

“That’s exceedingly poor,” he said. “I think we need more.”

Plans to expand force
University Police Chief Greg Hestness said he hopes to hire 10 new officers before the on-campus football stadium is built.

But because the police budget is funded by the University general fund, adding new officers is not a sure bet. Hestness has to lobby to a University investment planning committee and demonstrate why the department deserves more funding for new officers.

“We’re competing for a lot of worthy dollars,” Hestness said.

A new officer costs the department about $80,000 to hire, train and equip, Miner said.

The budget, rather than public safety issues, dictates whether new officers can be hired, Hestness said.

About half the police budget is funded through several grant programs, while another 25 percent is funded directly with student tuition fees, he said.

“We do work for (students),” Hestness said. “(Students are) our boss.”

The remaining 25 percent comes from state support, but that support has waned in the past five or six years, he said.

In the past year, two new officers were hired, Miner said.

Dispatch and duties
The University is in the southern portion of Minneapolis Precinct 2, historically known to have less crime than the rest of the city, Miner said.

Thus, the Minneapolis Police Department typically puts one or two officers on patrol in the area, Miner said.

“Fewer officers are assigned to this precinct,” he said. As a result, University police field calls on and around the campus area, he said.

“It drains our resources, to an extent,” Miner said.

On a given shift, University police deploy three or four officers and one supervisor to cover the East and West banks and the St. Paul campus, Hestness said.

First-year student Danielle Sniker said she was concerned about police presence.

“The chances of them being in the right place at the right time are very small,” she said.

University police clocked about 7,000 overtime hours last year, Hestness said. Officers dedicated about 6,000 of those hours specifically to working special events, including security for athletics events and controversial speakers – a number that increased 20 percent over previous years, Hestness said.

“I think we’re all stretched pretty thin,” he said. “But we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got.”

Police presence
Today’s University police force is much smaller than it was in the 1970s, when the department boasted 70 officers.

The 1970s were a time of unrest and required a larger force, Hestness said. That unrest tapered off in the early- to mid-1980s and University police reflected that change, trimming the force to 35 officers, Hestness said.

These days, through the use of mounted, bicycle and motorcycle patrols, the department has tried to increase police visibility around campus, Miner said.

Xenia Rose, a first-year sociology and psychology student, said she has not seen many officers on campus.

“The only time I’ve seen police is when sirens are ringing,” she said.