Employment opportunities, not security infrastructure, will address campus safety at the U

In the past few months, the University of Minnesota has faced an uptick in crime on and around the Twin Cities campus. These crimes have varied from petty theft to aggravated assault and have occurred across neighborhoods to victims of varying demographics. The crimes have had but one thing in common: the perpetrators. The perpetrators reported in many cases were young black males between the ages of 16 and 30. The University has reallocated $4.1 million so far to address this issue. These funds have been budgeted to increase security infrastructure on campus in the form of security lighting, security monitors and cameras.

By all appearances, the University falls slightly short of building a security wall parameter to keep the criminals out. These interventions, while commendable, are not sufficient to address the racial disparities that seem to be the root cause of the problem.

To propose solutions to this perplexing situation, one would begin with the basic question of why these particular perpetrators? Why aren’t University professors or even white youth the perpetrators? The answers to these questions would then provide an ideal baseline to develop informed interventions.

In 2009, Minneapolis was shown in a nationwide study to have one of the highest unemployment disparities for any metropolitan city, with African-Americans being more than three times more likely to be unemployed when compared to their white counterparts. Institutional racism, disadvantaged social backgrounds and lower education completion rates were the main factors identified for this problem. A unique factor to Minnesota that perpetuated this problem was the racial disparity in imprisonment rates. Minnesota had the highest black-to-white imprisonment disparity in state prisons, with one white inmate for every 25 black inmates.

A more recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that Minnesota had the highest recidivism rates among 42 states at 61.2 percent. Recidivism refers to relapse to criminal behavior and consequent reincarceration despite being punished. These studies demonstrate the hopelessness that exists for young black men in Minnesota. Many black youth in Minnesota have less than a high school education, are unemployed and have a criminal record.

These three factors predispose them to a life of crime, according to a framework developed by a prominent economist. Economist Gary Becker proposed a framework that attempts to provide context to why criminals break rules despite known negative results. The concept of the framework is that criminals rationally weigh the benefits and costs of committing a crime and then act accordingly. If the reward is sizable and the probability of being caught is low, then the benefits of committing the crime outweigh the cost, and the criminal is more likely to commit the crime. The same applies vice versa.

This framework provides context to why black youth are the key perpetrators of crime in Minnesota and to why increased security infrastructure will not be sufficient to dissuade them. The unemployed youth with limited skills to earn a living wage will always find that the cost of crime is minimal compared to the benefits. The system has been developed in a manner in which prisons have more people that look like them, crime is a viable source of income and minimal socio-economic structures defy the above notions.

Consequently, they will continue to commit the crimes lest alternative opportunities are created for them. In fall 2013, only 4 percent of the incoming freshmen at the University were black. This is despite the fact that African-Americans comprise more than 18 percent of the population of Minneapolis. The college completion time and dropout rate was significantly higher for black students compared to their white counterparts.

The ultimate goal of any program that seeks to address the issue of safety in Minnesota should be geared to minimizing the system-wide issues that cause perpetrators to commit crimes. As a land-grant institution, the University has a unique opportunity to not only ensure campus safety but to meet its objectives of fulfilling the education needs of Minnesota’s changing demographics. It can attain both through community engagement programs that groom black youths from disadvantaged backgrounds and diversity programs at the University that assist these students to succeed.