To catch a criminal

Stopping crime will be harder than it sounds.

Brian Reinken

It seems University of Minnesota police send a new crime alert story every week, each with strange and terrifying tales of the gunmen, prowlers or thieves.

The chill we get from reading these alerts is exciting. Will the University police feature us in next week’s installment? Well, the answer is likely “no.”

People tend to be irrationally afraid of what they see. If you watch “Jaws,” you’ll worry about sharks. After 9/11, many Americans believed they would be killed in a terrorist attack. In reality, you’re four times more likely to be a struck by lightning than be a victim of terrorism.

Despite all the crime alerts we read, your risk of being a victim of a violent crime while at the University is very low.

In October, there were 12 and 66 crimes reported in the University of Minnesota and Marcy-Holmes neighborhoods, respectively.

This is very troubling until you realize a disproportionately high number of these crimes are nonviolent — specifically, they’re larceny. If you simply consider the number of reported crimes, the drunken guest who stole your phone at your party last weekend is equivalent to a murderer. Last month, nine of the University’s 12 reported crimes — and 52 of Marcy-Holmes’ 66 — were larceny.

Let’s be generous and say that 10 out of the University’s 51,853 students were victims of a violent crime on or near campus last month. Minneapolis police statistics show Marcy-Holmes, Como, Prospect Park and the University averaged about 10 violent crimes per month so far this year. However, it’s possible one crime could affect multiple people, including non-students.

Let’s go further and say every student stands an equal chance of being a victim and crime levels are the same as they were this year. In a worst-case scenario, this means each student has a 10 in 51,853 chance of being involved in a crime on or near campus. That’s about .02 percent. Don’t get me wrong — recent crimes are upsetting. It’s crucial to manage crime, but what’s our plan?

University President Eric Kaler emailed students in the University community last week, promising to expand police patrols, install more security cameras on campus and “monitor and control openness of buildings.” In the email, Kaler said these measures are intended to deter crime and enhance safety. However, they probably won’t be as effective as we’d hope.

First, additional police patrols must come from somewhere. Are Minneapolis police officers going to be redirected toward the University campus — statistically one of the safer regions of the city — and away from areas that may need them more? Or are University police merely going to, as Kaler said, increase foot and bicycle patrols? These patrols lack the intimidation of a police car.

Second, installing more cameras on campus is unnecessary. Again, this is one of the safest places in the city. To be more effective, new cameras should be installed in Marcy-Holmes. Besides, if you’re the type of person who has decided to attempt an armed robbery on campus in broad daylight, you’re probably not worried about cameras.

Furthermore, cameras won’t deter crime unless potential criminals know they exist. Unless most criminals are on Kaler’s mailing list, they won’t know about any new security measures. Even if more police caught more criminals due to extra cameras, it wouldn’t necessarily thwart crime from occurring.

Third, the idea of restricting access to campus buildings is laughable. Most likely, the new measures would make a U Card necessary to access any building. For example, access to most dorms is already restricted to residents, but it’s about as hard to break into a dorm as it is to get into a box of cereal.

Would the University restrict access to every building? What about Coffman Union, which attracts plenty of non-students? What about the Fairview Medical Center? If the University restricts entry to these buildings, it would be easy to use the tunnels to access other buildings.

We mustn’t let the need to act outweigh the need to think. The most visible forms of response aren’t always the most effective. Furthermore, they’re often economically and civilly costly. Ultimately, true prevention may require resources beyond the University’s command.

I recognize that something needs to change. I just hope that as a learning institution, we can concoct a more stable solution to the question of crime, however overblown it may be.