The University of Minnesota has announced several efforts to improve public safety on and around campus in recent weeks, following concern from students and their parents about rising crime on campus and in surrounding neighborhoods.
Efforts include a partnership with Minnesota State Patrol to target crime, plus the reinstatement of its relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department after cutting ties days after the 2020 murder of George Floyd.
While some applauded the efforts as a means to make campus safer, others, including students, say the university should be more transparent and include student voices in its decision-making process around public safety on campus.
Public safety partnerships, efforts
Crime around the university has increased in recent years alongside rising crime in the city. The Marcy-Holmes neighborhood, for example – which includes Dinkytown – saw seven gunshot wound victims both this past summer and in summer of 2021, compared to two in the previous two summers combined, according to Minneapolis crime data.
Assaults around the university have more than tripled, with 37 so far this year compared to 10 in 2021, and larceny/thefts have jumped more than 55% since last year.
As students returned to the university for classes, Gov. Tim Walz and University President Joan Gabel announced earlier this month that the State Patrol would be conducting extra patrols on and around the university area. The school also anticipates help from the Hennepin County Sheriff, and Metro Transit officers will also increase the number of officers around the light rail stops on campus.
The university will recruit more officers to boost staffing from the current number of 51 officers to its authorized size of 71, hire community safety officers and improve lighting in areas on and around campus. This follows the formation of a safety advisory committee in July that includes students, parents, faculty and staff, as well as city and police officials.
“We all share a common goal to ensure the health and safety of every member of our University community,” Gabel said in a statement to MinnPost. “We have continued to invest significant resources and attention into a layered and comprehensive approach to safety, particularly this past summer in preparation for our fall semester.”
Late last month, the university also announced it would begin an “evaluative, phased” reinstatement of its relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department after severing ties with the department shortly after the murder of George Floyd in 2020.
“Law enforcement in the City of Minneapolis should reflect the public safety expectations of all members of our community,” Gabel said in the announcement. “We are encouraged by the many steps the City has taken to meet that expectation and look forward to future steps.”
A day after Floyd’s death under the knee of then-Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, student leaders sent a letter to university administration demanding that the institution cut all ties with MPD. The next day, Gabel announced that the university would no longer contract with MPD for extra support at large events like football games and campus police would stop using MPD for specialized services like K9 bomb detection.
The fallout from Floyd’s murder by a then-MPD officer involved several organizations distancing themselves from the department, including Minneapolis Public Schools and the city’s Park Board. It also triggered investigations into the department by the Department of Justice and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, the latter of which culminated in a report earlier this year that found the police department had engaged in a pattern or practice of racial discrimination in its policing.
But the university never stopped its day-to-day public safety partnership with MPD that includes patrols, investigations, emergency response and crime prevention.
What students, parents think
The rise in crime on campus has prompted parents of University of Minnesota students to get involved. Last year, parents formed a Facebook group called “U of MN parents- campus safety and call to action topics” to voice concerns about crime around campus.
Erin Brumm, an Edina resident whose son is a junior at the university, said she and a handful of parents were worried about their children on campus amid increasing crime and felt their concerns weren’t being heard.
So they created the Campus Safety Coalition, a nonprofit that the parents hope to use to have a say in how the university does public safety. So far that has included a police appreciation billboard campaign to boost officer morale and a spot for one of their members on the school’s safety advisory committee.
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Brumm said she believes the university ending its contractual relationship with MPD two years “did a lot of damage” to police morale, but she said she’s glad more officers will be patrolling the school and its neighborhoods to make the campus safer for their kids.
“We need boots on the ground,” she said. “Whoever that is, that’s what we need.”
Mina Zhang, communications director for the university’s undergraduate student government, said the university has been inconsistent in its engagement with students on decision-making around public safety.
She said the university responded quickly to student leaders’ letter following Floyd’s murder, but did not follow through another letter demanding several changes to campus policing and the resignation of UMPD chief Matt Clark for not responding to students’ claims of discrimination.
Zhang said the university administration did not consult students on either the partnership with State Patrol or the reinstatement of the university’s previous relationship with MPD before presenting them to the student body.
The university needs to be more transparent in its decision-making process and involve students and their parents, she said. That should include more safety panels where they could provide input before a decision is made, and deliberately making space for dissenting opinions that she said aren’t usually part of the conversation.
“Ultimately, we are the students who should have a say to determine how we want safety to be conducted on our campus,” she said. “I believe that every single student at this university has a stake in deciding how they want their safety to be done.”
During a university public safety forum last month attended by university and city officials, and MPD and UMPD officers, Gabel appeared to address some of those concerns. She said part of the school’s public safety plan is to enhance how they keep people informed. That will include expanding the borders of the university’s campus SAFE-U emergency notification system to include Dinkytown, and hiring safety-specific communications staff.
Gabel also encouraged students, parents, faculty and staff to continue voicing their concerns as the university implements its public safety plan.
“We want to hear from you,” she said. “We all want to be safe in every sense of that word, and we want you to know that is 100% what we’re working towards.”