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A conversation with University leaders

Senior Vice President Myron Frans and University of Minnesota Police Department (UMPD) Chief Matt Clark provide perspective on the University’s investments in both short- and long-term initiatives to enhance public safety.

What is the University doing to invest in public safety?

SVP Frans - At the president’s request, Dr. Cedric Alexander recently completed an analysis of University policing and our engagement and relationships with our neighboring communities. In his report, he called out a number of proactive measures that the University has already undertaken, and will be taking, to protect our community. We are investing in a personal safety mobile app used at a number of other universities across the country that, when implemented this summer, will help us respond faster to any perceived threat to a University community member. While it can’t prevent crime from occurring, it accelerates law enforcement response and increases the likelihood of identifying and apprehending criminals. The University is also maintaining enhanced lighting and “blue light” security kiosks on campus grounds. The kiosks connect callers directly with 9-1-1 dispatchers and provide a live video feed, which adds capacity to our existing inventory of cameras and other tools that help us identify problems and respond promptly.

Chief Clark - UMPD has 53 patrol officers who, along with 30 student security monitors and 20 full-time security advisors, provide a responsive and visible public safety presence across our campus. But we face a unique challenge: we serve a broader community that spends a great deal of time within our jurisdiction—the physical boundaries of our campus footprint in Minneapolis—as well as off-campus in nearby neighborhoods. Most of our students live in private housing in these off-campus neighborhoods, where public safety falls under the City of Minneapolis and its police department. The University and the UMPD continue to partner with Minneapolis Police on strategic joint patrols and investigations that impact our campus community. Our department is present and patrolling—seven days a week, 24 hours a day—in these neighborhoods nearest to our campus, recognizing that these are where our students, staff, and faculty live.

In response to recent events, we have added officers, on overtime, to neighborhood patrols. These patrols won’t stop all crime, but we know that deterrence and visibility are key elements in preventing crimes of opportunity, particularly robberies.

What can I do to stay safe?

Chief Clark - We live in a large, diverse, and vibrant metropolitan area. While living in a 3.5 million-person metro area provides exceptional benefits and unique campus experiences that have drawn us all here, crime alerts and issues across the Twin Cities remind us that we must all do our part every day to stay safe. When you do go out, pay close attention to your surroundings. Stay alert and in well-lit areas. Trust your gut feeling. If you think something isn’t right, stop, pause, and reassess. Your alertness is something that criminals want to avoid. Most are willing to be patient and look for opportunities that minimize their chances of being caught. If you notice an immediate threat or crime, call the University’s dedicated 9-1-1 center and we will respond. If your instinct suggests such a threat or crime, but you can’t be certain, please err on the side of caution and call 9-1-1.

SVP Frans - I echo the Chief’s advice. One of the University’s greatest advantages is our unparalleled location. But with all these benefits at our doorstep, we also have to deal with some of the common challenges that come with large city settings. Be careful, be alert, and whenever possible, walk with someone, or call 612-624-WALK to utilize our SafeWalk Service, particularly at night.

Will crime continue to increase?

Chief Clark - While no one can predict what the future holds, we have seen these patterns before. There are many factors that contribute to increased criminal activity, which is playing out all over the metropolitan area. 

Law enforcement has a role in serving our community, but the underlying causes of unlawful behavior are ones that only our entire community can and must address in the long term. From criminal justice reform to stem and eliminate systemic racism, to creating opportunities for promoting economic development for greater financial equity, we must openly and honestly consider broad solutions that address crime’s root causes so we can drive lasting change. 

SVP Frans - To the Chief’s last point, the University is on the front lines of work on these greater challenges. Many of our academic colleagues are engaged in direct research to better understand and mitigate the conditions that are believed to contribute to crime. I’m proud to be part of an institution that is committed to this research and outreach that directly benefit the health, safety, and well-being of all Minnesotans.

What other resources exist to protect our community?

Chief Clark - I would like everyone to review a number of resources that you can use to keep you, your friends, and your colleagues safe. They include:

SVP Frans - The most important safety resource is your own awareness. Whether you are on campus or off, being alert is the most important tool you have in protecting yourself and those around you. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Call 9-1-1, step into an area business or other populated area, and ask for help.