Neighborhood watch group aims to inform students about local crime

The new Gopher Watch program will provide monthly crime statistics and safety training.

Minneapolis Police drive downtown on Tuesday, June 26.

Tony Saunders, Daily File Photo

Minneapolis Police drive downtown on Tuesday, June 26.

Emma Dill

Students living in neighborhoods around the University of Minnesota will be able to more easily access crime statistics when Gopher Watch, an off-campus watch group, launches next month.

The group will publish crime statistics for neighborhoods near campus in the University’s Off-Campus Living monthly newsletter and hold neighborhood safety trainings starting next semester in a joint effort with the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis police departments. The program aims to supply students with easy access to safety information to help them feel more aware and connected to their neighborhoods.

Eric DeBord developed the idea a year ago when he began working as a neighborhood liaison with Off-Campus Living. 

“Sometime last year I had the initial idea of just having … a report that could just detail in plain words and numbers what the trends are in crime in the neighborhoods surrounding the University,” he said.

Cody Hoerning, a Southeast Como Improvement Association board member, joined the project this spring, hoping the group could bridge a safety information gap. Students often rely on news reporting to learn about local crime and don’t always know how to break down statistics available online, Hoerning said.

“Without going in and checking [the statistics] themselves, there’s no easy way to get a synopsis of what kind of crimes are occurring where [students] are living,” he said.

The student-dominated neighborhoods around the University also lack the stability needed for a resident-led neighborhood watch program, Hoerning said. Having MPD, UMPD and Off-Campus Living involved with the group will provide a more permanent neighborhood presence.

“In Dinkytown now, I think there’s just a few permanent residents left,” Hoerning said. “It’s almost exclusively renters, and so it’s just very hard to maintain the structure of an in-person watch group.”

Gopher Watch will supply students living in Cedar-Riverside, Marcy-Holmes, Southeast Como and Prospect Park with crime data complied in collaboration with UMPD and MPD. DeBord said communication with the departments is critical. 

“It’s really important for us that we’re in the loop with them,” he said. “That way we know that we’re doing this project right.” 

Off-Campus Living met with UMPD and MPD last week to discuss the program. They aim to send out their first crime update Nov. 2.

UMPD and MPD will also lead safety trainings in each neighborhood about once a semester starting in this spring. The trainings will present training relevant to recent neighborhood trends, Hoerning said.

The program is partly modeled after Badger Watch, a watch group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that has been in place for more than a decade. 

“It’s just one big neighborhood watch program that aims to reduce crime and prevent crime from that particular person that’s involved with the program,” said Marc Lovicott, director of communications for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Department. 

DeBord said he hopes the introduction of the program will help students to feel more informed and ultimately safer. 

“I want students to be more engaged and feel connected to their communities,” he said.