Campus safety an issue after shooting

The random nature of last month’s shooting has made it hard for University police to address concerns.

by Kyle Potter

In the wake of the Jan. 25 shooting outside of Centennial Hall, student safety has become a hot-button issue for students and University of Minnesota administration alike. Discussions on how to improve safety around campus have erupted within the Minnesota Student Association and Student Representatives to the Board of Regents. But the nature of the shooting has made it difficult for University police and the administration to address their concerns. âÄúIt was a very unique incident that is difficult to prevent from happening again,âÄù said University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner. University police have been focusing on communication issues, and has increased its presence around campus with foot-patrols meant to, âÄúhelp calm peopleâÄôs nerves,âÄù Miner said Student groups have openly criticized University police for not issuing a TXT-U alert to warn about the shooting and for the 12-hour delay in sending public safety alert e-mails to students. Aaron Carlson, a sophomore MSA representative, said he understood the reason for not issuing a mass text alert, but didnâÄôt feel it was fully justified. âÄúIf we are to believe that this is a university campus, we should be able to handle some information,âÄù he said. In the days following the shooting, University police said they didnâÄôt issue the text message alert because of the random nature of the crime and the fact the suspects had already fled the University area. However, Miner now says University police would issue an alert in the future if a similar incident were to happen, and also mentioned their efforts to improve the speed of the public safety alert e-mail system. Carlson said he felt safe on campus prior to the shooting, but that it has made him more aware of the need for improvement. He said an overhaul of the campusâÄô blue emergency phone system is needed. These phones provide a direct connection with University police emergency personnel, and are easy to spot from a distance. There are 12 on the Minneapolis campus, but Carlson said he thinks there needs to be more. Miner questioned the effectiveness of these phones, and said he doubts more will be installed around campus. âÄúNow that nearly every student, staff and faculty person is carrying their own sort of ‘code blue phone’, theyâÄôre used very seldomly,âÄù he said. While they were popular before the advent of the cell phone, he said the majority of the calls received from these phones are pranks. Miner said E-911, a system that uses GPS to locate a callerâÄôs cell phone location, has made the code blue system obsolete. âÄúThe cell phone technology is surpassing the âÄòcode blueâÄô usefulness,âÄù he said. But Carlson said he isnâÄôt convinced cell phones are the answer. âÄúWho is going to, in their right mind, take out their cell phone and call the cops when somebody is following them?âÄù Carlson asked. The amount of requests for walk escorts the Security Monitor Program, a branch of the University police, received increased significantly in the week following the shooting. Justin Yarrington, the assistant manager of the program, said an average of 15 requests were made per night prior to the shooting. That number jumped to between 40 and 50 in the week after the shooting. Yarrington said they have received about 30 requests per night lately. He believes this number will not drop much further, citing an increase in safety awareness as well as the warming weather. Chelsey Odegaard, a public relations junior, said she has become more conscious of her surroundings since the shooting, but doesnâÄôt feel unsafe. âÄúI’ve never used [the safety escort program], but it’s definitely been in the back of my mind,âÄù she said. Odegaard encouraged students to walk with a friend at night, but couldnâÄôt think of anything the University can do to increase campus safety. Miner emphasized the importance of providing a feeling of safety for students, whether that is by increasing patrols or utilizing the roughly 900 security cameras installed around campus. These cameras, Miner said, played a large role in tracking the movements of the suspects in the shooting who were eventually arrested on Feb. 11. Miner said he feels the shooting has been a black mark on what has been a safe and secure campus. Both theft and crimes against persons have dropped significantly over the past 15 years, he said. âÄúAll in all, for an urban campus with 50,000 students, it’s still a very, very safe place.âÄù