Do crime statistics accurately portray U?

UMPD wants us to feel safe, pointing to declining numbers. But what do these numbers mean?

Nora Leinen

After being named the safest city in America by Forbes in 2009, Minneapolis has already experienced 15 homicides in 2010. These serious crimes have started to spill over into University neighborhoods. When I moved to Minneapolis from the not-so-populous South Dakota, I knew things would be different. But the Jan. 25 shooting in front of Centennial Hall came as quite a surprise. Then on Mar. 20, I was frightened and saddened by the sexual assault our classmate endured. The robbery on Feb. 23 in the Carlson School of Management and the stabbing in Marcy-Holmes on Monday have created a lot of talk about safety on campus and stirred up discussion over the effectiveness and timeliness of the TXT-U alert system. In response, this service will change from an opt-in program to an opt-out program, according to University police Chief Greg Hestness, and despite these high-profile instances, University police argue that crime at the University is down from this time last year. But do the statistics represent the truth? âÄúThe statistics donâÄôt mean anything when a student gets shot in front of a residence hall,âÄù said Tim Busse, communications director for University services, âÄúWeâÄôre trying to find ways to make people not only be safe, but feel safe.âÄù There is a fine line between feeling safe and feeling too safe. ItâÄôs important for students to be constantly aware of the risks but not scared to leave their house. âÄúWeâÄôre in the bubble of the U, but that doesnâÄôt mean weâÄôre immune [to crime],âÄù said Britta Suppes, a graduate student in forest resources. âÄúItâÄôs mostly important to be aware of your surroundings.âÄù Hestness said he has been trying to keep up with security demands while stressing to students the importance of taking control of their own safety. So where does personal responsibility reach its limits, and where does protection by law enforcement begin? The University of Wisconsin, although it has about 10,000 fewer students, had about half the on-campus crime the University did in 2008, according to Department of Education statistics. During this year, there were 186 burglaries on campus at the University, while UW experienced only 56. While UW is not surrounded by a major metropolitan area, its campus still experienced less than one-third of the burglaries that our campus experienced. The University had 11 forcible sex offenses on campus in 2008, while UW only experienced five; all 11 of the UniversityâÄôs sexual offenses occurred in residence halls, while at UW, only one was reported in a residence hall. On the flip side, UW police arrested 937 people on campus for liquor law violations in 2008, while UMPD only recorded 151 arrests on campus for the same offenses. While these numbers cannot be said to correlate, it is an interesting fact when connected with the UniversityâÄôs significantly higher amount of sexual assault in dorm rooms âÄî a crime often linked to alcohol consumption. Some University students have called for a more prominent presence of police officers on and around campus and increased lighting in typically dark areas. âÄúItâÄôs all about the mindsets, in my opinion,âÄù Aaron Carlson, second-year political science major, said. âÄúWe need to increase visibility [of officers], more lighting to off-campus areas, specifically those streets in Marcy-Holmes.âÄù Unfortunately, UMPD may not be able to meet those requests. âÄúOur department had 70 to 80-some officers,âÄù Hestness said. âÄúBy 1990, there were 35 officers who were working three cities 24/7. TheyâÄôve let me build it back up to 50, and I have a budget for 55, but that gives us just a little more breathing room to do little more than respond to calls.âÄù Marcy-Holmes, like other areas just off campus, has been host to many of the recent crimes and robberies this year. While these areas are not UMPDâÄôs primary jurisdiction, Hestness said he is not ignoring them. âÄúWeâÄôre watching it really closely. I donâÄôt distinguish much between on and off campus,âÄù Hestness said. âÄúStudents are living, working and recreating in the neighborhoods, so thereâÄôs not much of a distinction for a school like ours.âÄù UMPD has tried to increase communication with students and faculty about crimes on campus through the University e-mail alerts. UMPD has issued seven crime alert e-mails this semester alone. Most years see only about 12 to 14 alerts, according to Hestness. The University has also instituted the TXT-U service meant to inform students of emergencies on campus and campus closings. Hestness said UMPD is trying to increase its efficiency and has his force practicing what to say in the limited space of one text message if a situation like the shooting were to happen again. âÄúThings are targeted for a reason,âÄù said Carlson. âÄúIf the University looks like an easy target, itâÄôs going to be a target. If we can boost that idea that âÄòHey, this is a controlled areaâÄô âĦ thatâÄôs whatâÄôs going be our best bet.âÄù UMPD has a limited amount of officers due to limited funding. Lights in the neighborhood arenâÄôt funded by the University, and appeals should be directed toward the city. Those things would be great, but the University has made it clear that it doesnâÄôt have any more money for police, so itâÄôs up to the students to not make themselves targets. DonâÄôt let your friend walk home alone after hitting the bars, donâÄôt listen to your iPod while walking around campus at night, and know that these crimes could happen to you. We donâÄôt have to stay home, but we also donâÄôt have to be victims.