Students search for safety slipups

by Vadim Lavrusik

Four groups of students, accompanied by neighborhood residents and police officers, walked the campus Wednesday night looking for broken lights and other safety issues, in hopes of creating a safer campus.

The Minnesota Student Association joined with University police and surrounding neighborhood residents for a safety walk around the Minneapolis campus and parts of the Marcy-Holmes and Southeast Como neighborhoods.

“The Night of Safety” was organized by MSA officials because of the influx of crime this year, said Adam Engelman, chairman of MSA’s Facilities, Housing and Transit Committee.

“Safety has always been an issue on campus, and, in my mind, this year it would be the No. 1 issue,” Engelman said. “I have friends who are changing their walking patterns at night trying to avoid certain areas; it is a serious thing.”

MSA representatives were the only students who participated in the event.

Throughout the two-hour walk, participants focused on five areas where security could be improved: lighting, landscaping, emergency communications, physical hazards and vandalism.

Participants recorded their complaints on slips of paper and forwarded concerns to the Department of Central Security, which will work to address the complaints.

Each group went to a different location on campus. One walked along the West Bank, one walked from Church Street to the Superblock, another examined the area from Church Street to the Mississippi River and the last walked 14th Street up to Como Avenue and back down 15th Street.

University Police Chief Greg Hestness said personal crime on campus hasn’t gone up as much from last year, but in the immediate areas off campus students are at a much higher risk.

From poorly-lit areas to broken handrails, most of the issues students bring up are physical elements on campus that could be improved to increase safety, Hestness said.

“I’m not walking home from the library on a certain route at midnight on finals week and (students) are,” he said. “We may not think from their perspective, so that brings things to our attention.”

With the increase of crime in areas around campus, many neighborhoods like Marcy-Holmes and Prospect Park have organized safety walk groups.

Southeast Como hasn’t followed this trend because of a lack of residents interested in participating, said James De Sota, neighborhood coordinator for the Southeast Como Improvement Association.

Although MSA considered another safety walk in the spring, they have no plans of creating a regular safety walk group on campus.

Hestness said he is a strong advocate of such groups and thinks it would be a great idea to have a student-organized walk group on campus.

The absence of this group may be solved this spring with the help of the Northeast Citizen Patrol, which aims to expand their coverage to the University, said Shelley Leeson, co-director of the Northeast Citizen Patrol.

“No different than residents in our neighborhood, students gotta step up and say, ‘I’ll commit an hour a week to patrol.’ That’s how we get started,” Leeson said.

After the walk concluded, MSA had a housing forum with University officials present in Coffman Union.

Participants at the forum gave their input and had an open discussion about what could be improved to make the neighborhoods safer.

The University wanted to take part to get students’ comments for the Neighborhood Impact Report, which came about as part of stadium legislation, focusing on the vitality and livability of neighborhoods adjacent to the University. The report will be submitted to the city in February.

Jan Morlock, community director for University Relations, said the University has been having community meetings to get feedback for the report but didn’t get a lot of student input.