Report: Campus safety makes the grade

Jesse Weisbeck

Both the University and the state of Minnesota are seeing a decrease in crime, according to two recent reports.
University Police Chief Joy Rikala gave the Twin Cities campus a “B-plus to an A-minus” rating in safety following an annual University crime statistics report released Thursday.
The report came shortly after the release of the Minnesota Department of Public Health’s analysis on statewide crime in Minnesota, which concluded that the state is very safe to live in.
Gov. Arne Carlson gave the state a “B” grade.
Crimes such as burglary and vehicle theft have decreased statewide by 7 percent, while violent crimes such as homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault decreased by 4 percent.
Val Gunderson, executive press secretary for Carlson, said the decrease in crime is due to several initiatives the state began when Minneapolis’ murder total reached 97 in 1995. The New York Times dubbed the city “Murderapolis.”
In his report, Carlson states, “Statistically, Minnesota remains a very safe state … It appears that we are beginning to stem the rising tide of crime.”
University statistics were similar to the state’s numbers. Most violent crimes experienced a moderate decrease. However, cases of reported criminal sexual conduct were up by five incidents from last year to 14 total incidents.
Rikala explained, however, that the increase can be misleading.
“The reason the criminal sexual conduct cases have increased is because people have become more comfortable with reporting such incidents, and we’re happy to see that,” she said.
Rikala attributes the University’s low crime rate to vigorous activity by officers and investigators, including an increase in arrests.
Arrests at the University jumped by 284 in 1997, while state-wide arrests increased by 8.8 percent.
“Our investigations have become more aggressive,” Rikala said.
University Police Officer Eric Swanson agreed.
“The University brought on new officers, and we’ve been doing more enforcement now than in the past. When I first got here, it wasn’t too hard to go out and find vagrants and bike thieves, but now I’m almost starved of those kinds of incidents,” he said.
In past years, crimes that occurred on campus but resulted in arrests off campus would get filed with either Minneapolis or St. Paul police rather than with the University Police. Such cases sometimes led to misleading crime statistics.
Now University Police include these arrests in their own files.
Upgrading thefts to burglaries around the University also increased numbers in the arrests category.
For example, all University buildings are considered public facilities. In the past, any stolen property would be considered a “theft.” But due to the change, such a crime is now a “burglary,” which is a higher offense.
“Upgrading thefts to burglaries helps keep criminals off campus. We’ve made the (University) an inhospitable place for criminals to come,” Swanson said.
Lt. Governor Joanne Benson said that the decrease in crime is encouraging, but much work still needs to be done.
“It’s going to be an ongoing struggle for all of us,” she said.