Como community unites after alleged assault

After an alleged sexual assault, Como is upping safety efforts.

Southeast Como Improvement Association member and junior Cody Olson and volunteer junior Macall Biebel trace the route that the group will be touring in the Southeast Como neighborhood on Friday at Southeast Christian Church.

Bridget Bennett

Southeast Como Improvement Association member and junior Cody Olson and volunteer junior Macall Biebel trace the route that the group will be touring in the Southeast Como neighborhood on Friday at Southeast Christian Church.

Alex Bitter

The crime rate is up this fall in Southeast Como, but residents and neighborhood leaders say they’re determined to reverse that trend.

One crime in particular, an alleged sexual assault near Van Cleve Park on Oct. 27, was the focus of a meeting at Southeast Christian Church on Friday.

About 30 people attended the meeting, which was coordinated by the church and the Southeast Como Improvement Association.  Residents discussed the incident, and police and the University of Minnesota’s Aurora Center provided information about how to prevent similar attacks.

Southeast Christian Church senior minister Brett Miller said the influx of students in Southeast Como over the last few decades has changed the composition of the neighborhood, which used to consist mostly of families.

While some communities have responded to an increase in crime by demanding more lights or greater police presence, Miller said, building a community where everyone watches out for each other “like a family” is key to preventing future assaults and other crimes.

“It’s great to have more police coverage, it’s great to have more lights, but the strength is always in the people,” he said.

Miller said students shouldn’t be afraid to assume a larger role in community affairs, even if they only plan to live in the area for a short time.

“We can use this forum as a way to help people think of the neighborhood more as a family and for students to realize that even if [they’re] only here a year or two years, [they’re] important to this neighborhood now,” he said.

The meeting was one of two events last week aimed at raising awareness of the recent assault and encouraging a community discussion.

SECIA neighborhood director Ricardo McCurley said volunteers also distributed safety information at bus stops and public places around the neighborhood Wednesday. Students are the most frequent victims of crime in Southeast Como, he said.

There’s usually an uptick in crime at the beginning of the school year, McCurley said, but the severity of the recent attack prompted community leaders to act.

Minneapolis police recorded 46 crimes in Como in September, compared to 27 during the same time last year. Burglaries more than doubled between the two months.

Minnesota Student Association Vice President Fiona Cummings said MSA is surveying students to find out how safe they feel around campus. The data, divided by neighborhood, will help MSA determine which neighborhoods need improvements.

Anna Siekmeier, 22, a graphic designer who recently moved to the neighborhood, said the assault has forced her and her roommate to reconsider their own security, especially when walking to or from home at night.

“My roommate, after hearing about [the assault], bought a Taser,” she said.

Siekmeier said Friday’s meeting allowed her to meet other residents with similar concerns. Community events, like the recent Como Cookout, need to be part of the effort to build a stronger community so residents can present a united front, she said.

“If people see that, they’ll think twice about what they do in their neighborhood.”