University of Minnesota and law enforcement officials headed to the Minnesota Legislature Tuesday to brief lawmakers about a recent spike in campus crime.
On paper, there has been little change in the campus crime rate. But the statistics are small consolation to students after a series of brazen crimes on and near campus – including sexual assaults, muggings and armed robberies.
“We no longer feel safe walking outside,” University of Minnesota student Sara Gottlieb told lawmakers Tuesday during a hearing of the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee.
Universities have stepped up outreach efforts – urging students to take common-sense precautions like walking in groups and keeping expensive cell phones and electronics out of sight in public.
But students say they feel targeted, no matter what precautions they take. They can hide their phones, but criminals will assume they carry one anyway. They can walk in groups, but armed robbers near campus have attacked groups as well as individuals.
The University of Minnesota has 50,000 students, but it seems that almost everyone knows someone who has been a victim, or has had a close call. Student Rachel Sadowsky told senators about a friend who was robbed on his own front porch while coming home from work.
“We feel targeted and we do not feel safe,” said Sadowsky, who urged the university to expand patrols into the neighborhoods around campus.
“Hiding our phones is not enough… Walking in groups is not enough,” said Gottlieb, who lives blocks from a street corner where a student was held up at gunpoint in the middle of the afternoon this Sunday. “Carrying pepper spray is not enough, as a good friend of ours this weekend had her pepper spray turned against her as she was walking home.
So far this semester, there have been four serious crimes within blocks of student Zack Shartiag’s home in Dinkytown. Security worries are doing more than the weather to drive down attendance at campus events, he said.
“I’ve been changing my routes, I’ve been staying inside,” he said.
Those sorts of worries prompted committee chairwoman Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, to call a three-hour informational hearing of the to look into what campuses are doing about the crime spike, and what the Legislature might do to help.
“We are here to combat that fear, not succumb to it,” Bonoff said. “We are going to nip this....The university’s a jewel and we are not going to lose our students. We’re going to keep you safe.”
Campus police and community law enforcement testified about the efforts already going into the work of keeping students safe. The university recently hired three new officers for its 50-member campus police force and is putting in extra lighting, emergency call boxes and key-card locks on public buildings.
Since Aug. 1, there have been 28 robberies around the university’s Minneapolis campus. In the most recent incident, a 23-year-old woman was scraping ice off her car’s windshield at 4:43 p.m. Sunday when an armed man approached, displayed a gun, and demanded money. The man fled when the woman’s boyfriend approached.