Brighter streetlights. More campus police. New security cameras.
They’re all part of a “multipronged initiative” unveiled Tuesday to beef up security at the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus, which was shaken by a string of assaults and robberies last fall.
The plans, announced by University President Eric Kaler, also call for tightening access to campus buildings, expanding free transportation services at night and possibly adding self-defense workshops.
“Our campus and surrounding neighborhoods must be a safe place,” Kaler said in a statement announcing the program. He said the university is adopting a “wide-ranging approach” to address immediate and long-term safety concerns.
The university has been under growing pressure to improve security in the wake of last fall’s crime wave, which largely targeted students walking off campus late at night. Officials say 25 robberies were reported, the highest number in years, some at gunpoint.
University police said they added three officers in December, and plan to add four more officers to the late-night shift on Thursdays through Saturdays during the spring semester.
The new security measures include a student awareness campaign called “SAFE U,” to remind students to take steps to protect themselves, walk in groups and keep 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.
At the same time, the U said it plans to enhance security by:
• Installing brighter, white light bulbs on the campus side of University Avenue from 12th to Oak Streets, and improving lighting on “high-traveled corridors” such as Church Street.
• Adding security cameras on busy pedestrian routes.
• Converting all academic buildings on the Twin Cities campus to electronic-card access over the course of the semester.
The steps appeared to be welcomed by students who returned to campus Tuesday after winter break.
“I feel like they have been stepping up security and precautions a little bit, which I’m happy with,” said Josh Foschi, a 19-year-old freshman. “And that’s all I can really ask for.”
Emilee Dahle, a 23-year-old senior who takes several night classes, said she’s taken the warnings to heart. “I actually make my boyfriend drive me to them and pick me up, because I honestly don’t exactly feel safe on campus anymore,” she said. “I bought pepper spray just last fall because of all the crime alerts.”
University officials have tried to put the risks in perspective, noting that serious crime on campus has been declining for 11 years. At the same time, last fall’s robberies, along with several violent assaults, have put many students and parents on high alert.
But Dana Johnson, a 21-year-old senior, said she doesn’t feel the campus has become more dangerous. “It’s always in the back of your mind when you’re out late, studying late, walking around alone,” she said. “But not more than usual.” If anything has changed, she said, “it seems like the robberies have become more bold and more ubiquitous.”
A ‘kill switch’ for cellphones
Police say that thieves have targeted students to steal their laptops and smartphones. On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., held a news conference at the university to call for new measures to undercut the black market for smartphones. Klobuchar, who was joined by several police officials and students, said she plans to introduce federal legislation calling for a “kill switch,” which would render cellphones useless if stolen.
Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384