Crime is down, but campus worries over recent uptick

Though campus crime is down, many students say they feel unsafe.

Freshman Drake Bauer signs the Minnesota Student Association's safety pledge on Thursday at Middlebrook Hall. The MSA members were asking students to sign a pledge that they will call 624-Walk or Gopher Chauffeur instead of walking home alone.

Holly Peterson

Freshman Drake Bauer signs the Minnesota Student Association’s safety pledge on Thursday at Middlebrook Hall. The MSA members were asking students to sign a pledge that they will call 624-Walk or Gopher Chauffeur instead of walking home alone.

Kia Farhang

View a map week-to-week crime statistics by neighborhood

While crime on and around the University of Minnesota campus has been decreasing for years, a string of violent incidents in the past month has left many students feeling unsafe.

Police and University officials stress that the spike in crime is not the first of its kind and that the area is relatively safe compared to other Minneapolis neighborhoods.

But because most students only live in the area for a few years, they may not be aware of the longer downward trend in crime.

Officials say social media, email and text message alerts also impact students’ perceptions by making crime more visible than ever before.

Explaining the numbers

University police have recorded a 13 percent drop in crime over the first 10 months of the last six years.

Crime in the neighborhoods around and including the Minneapolis campus has remained fairly steady over that same time period, according to Minneapolis police data.

Since the beginning of the school year, University police have issued 10 crime alerts for 16 incidents on and around campus, including an attempted armed robbery in Anderson Hall in the middle of the afternoon.

A man also allegedly impersonated a police officer and sexually assaulted a student early Sunday morning. He had offered her a ride in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood after warning her not to walk alone, according to police.

The assault may be related to a similar incident on Saturday in Fridley, Minn., police said, where a man identified himself as a police officer before kidnapping a woman and sexually assaulting her.

Minneapolis police Cmdr. Bruce Folkens of the Special Crimes Investigation Division said at a press conference Monday that police have “several leads” but haven’t made any arrests yet.

University police only send alerts for violent crimes on or near campus. University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said the narrow scope of crime alerts may come with a downside.

“If people don’t hear about robberies anywhere else, that creates a perception that things must be really bad at the U,” Miner said, “when in actuality, there are more robberies happening in other parts of the cities.”

The apparent gap between perception and reality isn’t unique to the University community. A May report from the Pew Research Center found that a majority of Americans surveyed were unaware that gun violence nationwide is lower than it was 20 years ago.

The 2nd Precinct, which includes all University neighborhoods in Minneapolis except Cedar-Riverside, is the safest precinct in the city so far this year, according to Minneapolis police statistics.

Math junior Zack Nguyen said he thinks crime around the University isn’t unusual compared to other parts of the city.

“It’s not that high, to be honest,” he said.

Minnesota Student Association President Mike Schmit said that because the University is situated in an urban area, he thinks crime around campus is inevitably going to be higher than other universities.

“What’s got more crime,” he said, “the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities or the University of Minnesota-Morris?”

Putting crime in context

News of the recent violent crimes on and around campus has reached a broader audience than in years past through crime alerts, University text updates and social media.

Schmit said the crime alerts may not be as effective at preventing crime as administrators hope.

“Students see the same thing in every crime alert. It’s the same six points at the bottom of those messages,” he said. “I think a lot of the time, [the advice] might just go over students’ heads.”

But the increased awareness of crime has made students more receptive to discussions about safety, Schmit said.

Some students said the reported crime wave has caused them to change their behavior.

Psychology junior Christine Khanbijian said she’s started using the University’s security monitor program to cross campus at night.

Clinical laboratory sciences senior Ayub Limat said the alerts are a good way to keep students informed, but they aren’t solving the crime problem.

“It’s still the same story every week,” he said. “It’s just too much.”

John Elder, acting public information officer for Minneapolis police, said heightened attention on social media might obscure the fact that the crime rate around the University is relatively normal.

“The reality is that the campus is much safer today than it was in recent years,” Miner said.

University community relations director Jan Morlock said it’s important students put crime in a historical context.

The University area has seen similar upticks in crime before, including a jump in 2010 across all area neighborhoods, which was due largely to a rise in thefts.

But students often live near the University for only a few years and may not see the bigger picture, said Robin Garwood, a policy aide for Ward 2 City Councilman Cam Gordon.

Some blocks in Southeast Como, for example, are made up almost entirely of students who may only stay for a year, neighborhood coordinator Ricardo McCurley said.

“There’s no stability, no knowing what’s out of the ordinary,” he said.

Finding solutions

The recent crime wave triggered a response from the University, neighborhoods and student organizations.

President Eric Kaler said in a campus-wide email Nov. 12 that he had requested additional funds for police on and around campus. The University cited the recent uptick in crime as a major factor in its decision to add Thursday service to its Gopher Chauffeur free ride program.

University police logged overtime this weekend and will continue to do so until at least the end of the semester, according to an email Vice President for University Services Pam Wheelock sent to students, faculty and staff Monday.

Neighborhood and student organizations have taken similar steps to increase awareness, including an MSA door-knocking campaign last week and a Southeast Como meeting earlier this month.

But some say more could be done.

MSA Vice President Fiona Cummings said she’d like to see the University focus more on safety during freshman orientation.

“[Right now], it’s more just assuring parents that it’s a safe place to leave their children,” she said. “There’s not a whole lot of emphasis on actually what living in a city is like and what you need to be aware of as a student here.”

McCurley encouraged students to get involved with their communities so they’re more aware of what’s going on.

“What residents know is very dependent on how much they’re connected,” he said.

MSA President Schmit said he’s generally happy with how the University has responded to crime.

“We are at one of the safest points in recent history,” Schmit said. “But obviously, there’s always room for improvement.”

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.