A group of about 100 University of Minnesota parents and Dinkytown residents begged a panel of police and Minneapolis leaders Monday for a solution to a rise in violent crime near campus.
University leaders invited Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Interim Chief of Police Amelia Huffman to join them at the safety forum to talk policing.
A few people shouted questions at the speakers, gathered in a small auditorium classroom. A mother holding a framed picture of her son, spoke loudly of her frustrations with police, saying they have failed to solve her son's death in December 2013.
Brian Peck, a board member of the new group Campus Safety Coalition, was one of the first to address the panel of city and U leaders.
"Our number one objective is to make the University of Minnesota safe again," Peck said.
The forum is part of U's larger work to address safety and reduce crime in the area, a priority in the past year. Several efforts in the past include adding more police officers, establishing civilian safety ambassadors and partnering with local businesses to promote safety.
University President Joan Gabel attended virtually, and University of Minnesota Police Chief Matt Clark and University Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations Myron Frans attended in person.
"I want to give you a number that I hope at least makes you appreciate that effort is there on the University side," Gabel said. "Over the last two years, the University has invested more than $60 million new dollars in public safety around the system in order to fulfill and advance our safety commitments."
Some parents were upset Gabel could not attend in-person and called her out for leaving right after her statement. She said that months before planning the forum she had agreed to teach a class out-of-state.
Crime has spiked near the university since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Since then, the Minneapolis Crime Dashboard reports a few types of crimes have increased compared with last year. For example, assault offenses have tripled this year to 32, compared with 10 in 2021.
Last June, five people were shot in Dinkytown near the U's main campus, prompting University officials to announce steps to increase safety. But a wave of crime in Minneapolis over the July 4 weekend has intensified criticism, many blaming inaction by police.
Frey highlighted a few themes of safety efforts at the university, such as recruitment of new police officers.
"It's also making sure that we've got improved partnership … with chief Clark and interim chief Huffman, with the University of Minnesota more broadly, with President Gabel, to make sure that we've got again the most strategic response possible. That is work that is happening right now," Frey said.
At the forum, Frans elaborated on steps forward to combat rising crime. The UMPD is working to hire 10 community service officers and a recruitment engagement and mentorship officer. In addition, Frans said they created two police captain positions to provide more support and leadership.
Other efforts underway include:
- Seeking $2.3 million from Minneapolis to add high-level pedestrian lighting in Dinkytown to deter crime.
- Continuing to partner with Dinkytown neighborhoods and businesses to secure more cameras and lights.
- Finishing a study on forming a Business Improvement District in Dinkytown to decrease crime and enhance engagement of businesses.
- Working with Minneapolis Public Works to better control traffic and limit vehicles, potentially including street blockades.
After Frans announced time for one last question and a surge of protest erupted from the crowd of frustrated parents. Future opportunities to raise questions and concerns would be offered, he assured the crowd.
Peck remained skeptical.
"What got me involved with this was the shootout behind my son's fraternity … where there was 50 shots. I could see it. I saw it on the video. The lighting was perfect. Did [lights] prevent it from happening? No it did not," Peck said. "We need to be proactive. We need to prevent these things from happening in the first place. and lights and cameras don't do it."