MPR News' Tim Nelson reports:
The University of Minnesota is stepping up security after a rash of campus-related crime this school year.
The U added three officers to its police ranks. It's also adding dozens of new security cameras, extending hours of shuttle bus services, and rolling out key-card access to all university buildings.
“We're focusing on education initiatives, improving our enforcement during those key weekend evening hours with the Minneapolis police department,” said Pam Wheelock, vice president for university services.
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“We're also talking about making this a safer place by improving our lighting on campus, some of our surveillance cameras, and also revisiting how we keep our buildings safe and secure and appropriately open for the use of the university,” she added.
Wheelock spoke on Tuesday as she and the university’s police chief greeted students returning to campus for the first day of spring semester classes. President Eric Kaler is also planning a town hall style meeting with students to talk about safety issues at the U.
The U issued 17 crime alerts so far this year, as mandated by federal law. But both students and U official say they think the school remains a safe place to learn and work.
"Overall, this continues to be a very safe metropolitan area, and a very safe campus community," Wheelock added. "Overwhelmingly, we are seeing continued results in reducing the crime rates, and where we have had incidents of robberies, 80 to 90 percent of them have been off campus."
Officials say the most important thing is for students to use common sense and avoid situations where they might be vulnerable to crimes.
Note: Here's more detail from the U's announcement (link above) regarding its main safety initiatives:
The U will continue to inform the campus community about safety concerns via Crime Alerts and Public Safety Updates, while collaborating with student government and other campus leaders to spread awareness among students regarding safety tips and resources. For example:
SAFE U, a new student awareness campaign that includes posters, table tents, digital signs, social media outreach and a Web presence, begins to roll out this week to heighten consciousness about the pressing issue of safety.
Enhanced "Safety and U" website designed to provide current information, including what the U is doing to promote safety and steps students and others can take to promote safety for themselves and others.
The Office for Student Affairs is exploring expanding self-defense and personal safety workshops, in addition to several for-credit options that already exist.
Student Affairs is also reviewing its procedures for assisting victims of crime. WhileThe Aurora Center actively works to assist victims of sexual violence, opportunities are being explored to better connect victims of other crimes with available University and community resources.
Communicate proactively through local media and other vehicles to students, faculty, staff, parents, prospective students and others about public safety issues and efforts.
The University has identified immediate improvements and long-term opportunities for investments in the physical environment to make campus – particularly well-traveled corridors – safer.
The University will upgrade transportation by:
Extending hours of the Campus Connector bus service between the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses to 2 a.m., seven days a week during spring semester, starting today.
Implementing a new Weekend Circulator bus service between the East and West Banks beginning Friday, Jan. 24. The bus will run 6:30 p.m. Fridays to 2 a.m. Saturdays; 9:30 a.m. Saturdays to 2 a.m. Sundays; and 9:30 a.m. Sundays until 2 a.m. Mondays.
Expanding the Gopher Chauffeur for a second time. The free transportation service will operate from 10 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights during the semester starting Thursday, Jan. 23.
The U will also address highly traveled pathways on and surrounding campus by:
Immediately changing light fixtures from yellow sodium bulbs to white metal halide bulbs – to increase the brightness and consistency of light – along the campus-side of University Avenue between 12th and Oak Streets.
Developing a plan to improve lighting in other high-traveled corridors, including Church Street north of Washington Avenue.
Continuing to work with Xcel Energy to fix burnt out or other problem lighting fixtures off campus.
Developing a plan to add security cameras on highly-traveled pedestrian routes (e.g., University Avenue and Church Street).
Facilities and grounds crews also assessed landscaping on campus and found no need for immediate changes to ensure visibility and safe corridors.
Work is underway to balance the University’s traditionally public and open buildings with current security realities by:
Implementing a building access program by the end of the spring semester, which will limit access without proper student, faculty or staff identification cards outside of regular University business hours. Implementation will roll out as building access card readers are upgraded on the Twin Cities campus throughout the spring semester. Plans and related budgets are currently being developed.
Contract work for converting all academic buildings on the Twin Cities campus to electronic card access has begun this week. Upgrades will allow the University to control building access more consistently and remotely.
The University will continue to deploy undercover and uniformed police patrols on campus – and off-campus in conjunction with other local law enforcement – to deter people seeking to do harm, to prevent crimes and to catch criminals. Targeted and aggressive patrols on campus and in adjacent neighborhoods by UMPD, in collaboration with partner agencies, resulted in more than 20 arrests and gun seizures since September.
Recent or new initiatives include:
UMPD added three officers in mid-December, increasing its ranks to 50.
UMPD will add four officers to existing department resources from 9:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays during the spring semester.
University Services and UMPD will add 20-30 additional student staff to theSecurity Monitor Program to reach a total of 150 staff, while increasing the hourly pay rate for student monitors.
UMPD will continue to collaborate with the Minneapolis Police Department 2ndPrecinct, the Metro Transit Police Department, the Hennepin County Sherriff’s Office and Minnesota State Patrol.
The U stands in support of Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges’ stated goal of increasing the Minneapolis Police force and will continue to build a working relationship with Minneapolis’ new administration.
The safety of students, faculty and staff is of the highest priority at the University of Minnesota. The campus and surrounding neighborhoods will all be safer when everyone plays a role in promoting and encouraging safety. University leaders are committed to strengthening these partnerships by:
Planning a student "Town Hall" meeting in the coming weeks, a forum for students to interact directly with President Eric Kaler and others regarding public safety.
Engaging with African American students, faculty and staff at a Jan. 29 forum to discuss campus safety and the impact of racial profiling and racial stereotypes on campus climate – and ways to address these issues together in our community.
Playing a lead role in convening a metro-wide "Public Safety Summit" with law enforcement agencies, public safety experts and civic leaders.
Focusing University outreach to nearby neighborhoods, landlords and the business community, to encourage them to develop and implement their own local safety-related investments.
Advocating for federal and state legislation mandating "kill switch" technology and other measures to discourage the resale of stolen electronic devices.
For updates about the University’s public safety efforts, as well as important safety information, go to umn.edu/prepared