Crime prevention is the best way to keep University campuses safe, police chief says

Assistant Vice President for Public Safety and University Chief of Police I added chief of police responsibilities to my duties here at the University this last week, and I must object to The Minnesota Daily editorial board’s statement that the University Police Department and University Housing and Residential Life “routinely fail to provide comprehensive responses to area incidents.” As public servants we must be receptive to fair criticism, but this sweeping generalization, lacking any stated context, is uncalled for.

The University Village assault case was a success story for University police. They stopped a suspicious vehicle prior to the offense and recorded the occupants’ identity. University police officers later encountered the victims, rendered aid, assisted Minneapolis with its off-campus investigation, provided the suspect identification, assisted with witnesses and participated in the arrests.

This was a matter of an encounter between nonstudent visitors to University Village and wedding partygoers in a parking lot. As the case closed with an arrest, there was no alert to provide. However, we have been in discussion with Minneapolis as to whether there are any emerging trends to watch and attend to. So far, none have been identified.

As for emergency phones, there are 20 “code blue” phones on campus, 13 in Minneapolis and seven in St. Paul. To date they have been used for a few prank alarms and many true medical emergencies, but no actual crimes in-progress or just-occurred. It is impossible to know to what degree their presence has had a deterrent effect – no doubt some – but they can be a very expensive option. There are also about 200 other emergency phones in parking ramp entrances, lobbies and other common areas.

The editorial made some good points. You might not know that our central security director has worked to establish “exterior security standards,” including lighting, design and crime prevention through environmental design. This applies more to new programs but is gradually working its way into the remediation of existing facilities.

You might not be aware of the annual “nightwalk” that takes place on all University campuses where student representatives, administrators and facilities staff walk the campuses to identify lighting problems and repairs. Although by any measure serious crime, notably sexual assault, is low on campus, fear of crime, often exacerbated by inadequate lighting, does detract from students’ confidence in a safe campus environment. This is in itself a problem.

We are certainly familiar with the wooded riverbanks where students walk and run. Though Minneapolis Park police have this jurisdiction, University and Minneapolis police also patrol these areas. All three agencies together cannot give the area continuous attention. Good judgment and crime prevention awareness must be imparted. My own daughter ran those trails while an undergraduate on campus. She knew that when running in reduced lighting or remote areas she should be with a companion.

This leads to a discussion of increasing students’ ability to avoid victimization or prevent crime. This is indeed part of the mission of the University Police Department and public safety at the University. The University police Community Investigative division investigates reports of crime and also establishes liaisons in residence halls and other University communities to build this ability. A campus community has some unique challenges in this regard. Our community essentially turns over every four years, and in reality many students live on campus for only two or so years.

We have seen promising trends in students becoming involved in existing neighborhood associations. They can both contribute and benefit from neighbors who have been trained in crime prevention over the years. There is a current proposal to create a “University district,” an 82nd Minneapolis neighborhood. It would include the campus proper and the immediately adjacent blocks and businesses. University and Minneapolis police could maximize our crime prevention efforts with such a collaboration. It is under study and requires Minneapolis City Council approval.

The police have long since realized solving crimes is great, but after the fact, it is better to prevent a crime than to make a good arrest. It is better to prevent victimization. We welcome the opportunity to work with the entire campus community to accomplish this goal.

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