Entering its second year, UMN safety program looks to fill gap in crime information

Gopher Watch hopes to build awareness about safety tips and crime trends around campus.

Parked+cars+along+12th+Avenue+Southeast+in+the+Marcy+Holmes+Neighborhood+in+2018.+

Jack Rodgers

Parked cars along 12th Avenue Southeast in the Marcy Holmes Neighborhood in 2018.

J.D. Duggan

Gopher Watch spreads awareness about crime around campus, and now the group hopes more students will take better advantage of its work.

The group, which is run by the University’s Office for Off-Campus Living, publishes Minneapolis Police Department data, crime trends and prevention tips for the campus area in a newsletter and online. Since launching a year ago, Gopher Watch continues to make crime data more accessible for students living off campus and the larger University of Minnesota community.

Gopher Watch is “basically an online neighborhood watch” for the University area, said Cody Hoerning, neighborhood liaison with Gopher Watch and a University graduate student.

In the renter-dominated University neighborhoods, community engagement in crime prevention can be challenging. MPD publishes crime data, but students do not always know how to access it, Hoerning said. University of Minnesota Police Department safety notifications do not always cover off-campus crime.

“A lot of students don’t sign up for the traditional neighborhood watch methods because of the nature of renting in the University area,” Hoerning said. “So it’s a way to kind of fill that gap, still get the information out and make people informed to be able to make safe choices.”

Over the past year, Gopher Watch has highlighted crime trends, like increases in auto thefts when a vehicle is “warming up” and an uptick in moped thefts in the University area.

Marcy-Holmes resident Cordelia Pierson said neighborhood watches are generally receptive to an area’s current concerns. Marcy-Holmes saw a major uptick of violent crime last year, prompting members of Gopher Watch to get involved with neighborhood safety walks throughout the year.

“How do you get people to feel like they belong someplace so they’re willing to put some energy into making the whole community safer?” Pierson said. “Sometimes crime data doesn’t necessarily inspire people to do that.”

Gopher Watch also meets regularly with community members and crime prevention stakeholders and then relays safety tips to the campus community.

Hoerning said the group aims to prevent “crimes of opportunity.” These are crimes that aren’t necessarily premeditated, like theft of valuables left in the open or trespassing in unlocked buildings.

Kendre Turonie, program director of Off-Campus Living, said well-informed students could better contribute to the safety of the community as a whole.

“Helping students really understand their role as a community member and being aware of what’s happening to their neighbors on the blocks near them and things they can do to help protect themselves is always in the best interest of the University,” Turonie said.

Her office has done work around student safety for years, but Turonie said Gopher Watch is a promising new way to tackle the issue.

“Hosting something specifically on our websites and really pushing out like the tips and making it more student friendly, student-focused is, you know, it’s been a great experience so far,” she said.

Editor’s note: Kendre Turonie sits on the Minnesota Daily’s Board of Directors.