Campus Building Access Program looks to next phase

Campus autorities say it’s too early to tell if the program will reduce crime.

by Nick Wicker

With the exception of some chicken coops, storage barns and a few other campus buildings that no members of the University of Minnesota community occupy, the Twin Cities campus is secured for the night.

A building security initiative is nearing its final phase by restricting access to the University’s tunnels and skyways, and some law enforcement and school officials say the reasons behind the initiative vary.

By the beginning of the fall semester, 143  campus buildings had reduced the amount of time open to the general public through the Building Access Program.

The first phase of the plan for the program is partly aimed at increasing security over weekends and nights. That phase wrapped up at the end of August, and some say its effects on campus crime are still unclear.

“It was not aimed at any particular crime, particular issue, particular group of people,” University Services Assistant Vice President Brian Swanson said. “It was a general sense that the best way of keeping the bad guys out is just to lock the doors when you don’t need to have them unlocked.”

In the past, each building had its own set hours of operation. Each morning and night, a custodian would do rounds to unlock and lock doors, Swanson said.

Now, campus buildings — which are open without having to swipe a U Card during the day — automatically lock for the night sometime between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. and remain closed until about 6 a.m. or 7 a.m.

In its second, upcoming phase, the Building Access Program will better secure the school’s tunnels and skyways.

The initiative’s introduction of card-swipe access is one of many factors that have helped decrease the number of property crimes on campus during the last decade, Swanson said.

“Actually, locking the doors at a regular time and having better access control to outside doors is an excellent step, and certainly a major component of the program,” he said.

When University Services Vice President Pamela Wheelock proposed the initiative last fall, Swanson helped lead the team that orchestrated the $2 million in changes to building infrastructure.

“What we did with this program was accelerate something we might have done in five years — and did it in five months,” Swanson said.

University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said he believes the program has successfully restricted access to buildings after hours, particularly to people not affiliated with the University who he said target campus to commit thefts and other crimes.

“This program is really geared towards those types of individuals,” he said.

When crimes are committed by people who aren’t affiliated with the University in one of the school’s buildings, UMPD officers often give the suspects a trespassing warning in addition to any other citations, Miner said, to discourage them from returning.

Over an average week, UMPD issues three to four of these trespass warnings, Miner said, and only arrests about one individual per month for trespassing — usually when suspects have ignored repeated warnings.

During the month of September, police issued eight trespass warnings and five trespassing citations or arrests on campus, according to the UMPD’s daily crime log.

Many of the kinds of crimes that lead to trespass warnings happen during normal business hours — before the buildings are closed to the public — Miner said; therefore, that criminal activity isn’t impacted by the Building Access Program.

“Public safety from a trespass warning is one aspect of the program, but it is by no means the only aspect of the program,” Swanson said.

Miner said the Building Access Program is only one of many factors that help protect campus public safety.

“We believe that the improvements that have occurred over many years now have caused an overall decrease in crime on campus,” he said, “This will just add to that.”