Bright lights, more police are part of University of Minnesota plan to improve campus safety

  • Article by: Associated Press
  • Updated: January 21, 2014 - 4:25 PM

MINNEAPOLIS — Following an increase in robberies on and off campus in the fall, the University of Minnesota announced a multi-pronged approach on Tuesday to promote campus safety as students return for the spring semester.

Additional police officers and improved resources for crime victims are just some of the measures that university officials announced.

"Our campus and surrounding neighborhoods must be a safe place," university President Eric Kaler said in a written statement. Kaler said the university is launching a "wide-ranging approach" to address immediate and long-term safety concerns.

The university is also extending the hours of some of its bus and chauffer services, and exploring ways to expand self-defense classes.

In addition, officials are changing light fixtures along University Avenue from yellow sodium bulbs to white metal halide bulbs to increase brightness. And, they are implementing a plan to limit access to buildings.

Officials are also urging university leaders to keep students engaged through various town hall meetings or other events.

"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.

A rash of robberies and assaults last fall, targeting students on and off campus, prompted growing concerns about safety and increased pressure on university officials to take action.

"I'm concerned that this crime has changed people's behavior and made it more difficult to be a student and to do the type of things that students do — study late at the library or go out with friends," University of Minnesota senior Matt Forstie said.

The new steps include a student awareness campaign called "SAFE U," to remind students how to protect themselves, including keeping laptops and cellphones out of sight.

"Students need to continue to be vigilant in watching out for each other's safety," said Danita Brown Young, the dean of students.

University Police Chief Greg Hestness said extra patrols will continue.

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen Amy Klobuchar visited the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis to discuss ways to increase student safety. The Minnesota Democrat highlighted her proposed federal "kill switch" legislation, which would enable cellphone theft victims to render their phones inoperable to thieves and wipe their personal and financial information from the device.

There were 25 reported robberies on campus during the fall semester, many of them targeting cellphones and laptop computers.

Kaler, the university president, said in a letter to Klobuchar on Tuesday that the university supports her legislation and other efforts to reduce incentives for criminals to steal cellphones.

"We are committed to making our campus and surrounding neighborhoods safe places to study, work, live and visit," Kaler wrote.

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