Extra police to patrol University of Minnesota area after robberies targeting students

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Students walk across the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus in this 2011 file photo.
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Extra police officers, both undercover and uniformed, will patrol University of Minnesota neighborhoods this weekend following four recent robberies targeting students.

"Unfortunately, the criminals keep coming to this area because it's a target rich-environment," said University of Minnesota Police Deputy Chief Charles Miner. "They mostly seem to be seeking iPhones, and there are a lot of iPhones obviously in this area."

Police believe the crimes involve more than one group. They may be targeting students who appear drunk or distracted, Miner added.

The extra officers this weekend — as many as 16 — will come from Minneapolis police as well as campus and metro transit departments. Extra surveillance will continue as needed, though crime during the fall tends to decline as the weather cools, University of Minnesota Police Lt. Troy Buhta said.

In three of the robberies, two or more victims were punched or kicked, allegedly by a group of five to six black males who stole phones, wallets and purses. The fourth robbery, in which a suspect pulled out a gun, involves a separate group, authorities believe.

They were reported in the late night hours Saturday and early morning hours Sunday. Most have been between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. on weekends. A fifth incident — a theft from a student exiting a Metro Transit bus Friday — was also reported.

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All suspects in recent cases are men between the ages of 18 and 25. "There are more suspects out there," Miner said. "We typically have a few robberies every fall...but it is unusual to have this many, particularly with this many suspects involved."

Three weeks ago, police arrested three people who they believed were about to commit a robbery — a female getaway driver and two males. The group carried a gun in the trunk that matched the description of a gun used in a robbery a week before that.

"No matter where you are in the city, or in an urban area like this, you should be aware of your surroundings," said Miner. Students who are texting or listening to music on ear buds while they walk can "sort of became oblivious to their surroundings," making them vulnerable, he added.

"If you're walking down the sidewalk," Miner said, "you should be observant to who is around you, who might be approaching you."

Police encourage students to use the university's free security monitor service with security officers available to escort students to or from campus. Students can call 612-624-WALK (9255) for an escort.