Crime petition gains traction

The student authors want to collaborate with the University to increase police presence on campus.

University of Minnesota police officer Ryan Ross assists a pedestrian while directing traffic at Moos Tower on Tuesday.

Lisa Persson

University of Minnesota police officer Ryan Ross assists a pedestrian while directing traffic at Moos Tower on Tuesday.

Jessica Lee

On a cold, gray afternoon last month, a man with a handgun robbed a University of Minnesota student studying in Anderson Hall.

During the dark hours of a November night, a man wearing clothes that resembled a police officer’s sexually assaulted a student after offering her a ride in Marcy-Holmes.

Last Wednesday, a student was the victim of an attempted kidnapping near TCF Bank Stadium.

Following the string of violent crimes this fall, faculty, staff, students, parents and even friends in nearby states agree that campus safety is a problem. As of Tuesday night, more than 3,460 of them had signed a student-authored petition asking for more police on or near campus.

“I just don’t feel safe on campus at all,” signer and graduate student Anjoli Punjabi said.

Senior Sara Gottlieb and sophomore Rachel Sadowsky, both Spanish and Portuguese pre-med students, created the petition late last month. Sadowsky said they want to work with the University and would like to see a strengthened partnership between the University and Minneapolis police departments.

Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Danita Brown Young met with Gottlieb and Sadowsky on Monday to hear their concerns and discuss strategies in place to improve campus safety.

“We don’t want people to feel afraid to come to class,” she said. “We don’t want people afraid to go out at night, like they can’t go out and study and hang out with friends, because that’s part of their [college] experience.”

Since the start of the school year, University police have issued 13 crime alerts for 19 incidents on or near campus, including an armed robbery at a bus stop outside University Village on Saturday.

The petition says crime on campus has interfered with students’ ability to learn, noting fear of walking to study spots at night. Some students have even considered transferring schools.

Brown Young said police have been working “nonstop” to combat crime.

“Even without the petition, and before the petition was even created, we have been very diligent about stepping up the police force,” she said.

In an email sent to the University community Tuesday, Vice President for University Services Pam Wheelock said she wrote a letter addressed to Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Councilwoman Barbara Johnson asking for additional police resources from the city.

University President Eric Kaler and Wheelock met with mayor-elect Betsy Hodges last month to discuss the University’s need for additional city resources. Wheelock and University police Chief Greg Hestness have also met with Minneapolis police Chief Janée Harteau.

“No amount of investment will be sufficient without the partnership of the city and the student body,” Wheelock said in the email.

Brown Young said a task force comprised of University faculty, staff and students formed nearly two weeks ago to evaluate campus safety and address areas that need improving, like buildings’ lighting.

The campus ride service Gopher Chauffeur recently expanded its fleet and days of service, and it now offers shuttles for students Thursday nights. Also, Brown Young said, the University police’s security monitor escort service, 624-WALK, assures a safe way home.

Students may feel like they can take care of themselves and don’t need help, she said, but they should take advantage of these services.

“They are not invincible,” she said.

Sadowsky said she and Gottlieb drafted the petition after their friend was the victim of an attempted kidnapping late last month, deciding a petition was a concrete way to raise awareness.

“Our main goal was just to get word out that students are concerned,” Sadowsky said.

The petition will go to Kaler, University police, Minneapolis police and state legislators, according to the website MoveOn.org, which hosts it. The goal is 4,000 signatures.

“I’m glad that students are wanting to get involved and help,” Brown Young said. “We are absolutely aware of those concerns, and we’re doing all that we can do to ensure the safety of our students.”

Emma Nelson 
contributed to this report.