Community members kick off twice-weekly ‘safety walking group’ around U of M campus

Community members kick off twice-weekly ‘safety walking group’ around U of M campus

Community members kick off twice-weekly ‘safety walking group’ around U of M campus

A new safety initiative kicks off Thursday night near the University of Minnesota, with a few weeks to go until the start of the new school year.

A ‘Safety Walking Group’ will bring community members together twice weekly to walk the streets after dark.

“We believe public safety is everyone’s responsibility,” said Aileen Johnson, a University of Minnesota alumna who is leading this new effort. “We believe we will have an impact.”

Over the past year, Johnson has started similar grassroots walking groups in nine other Minneapolis neighborhoods and has seen positive results.

Each group consists of six to 30 people who spend several hours walking together, picking up trash, talking to those in need, and being a positive presence on the streets.

She said the idea to do something similar in Dinkytown came after a community safety meeting earlier this year.

5 EYEWITNESS News has extensively covered crime concerns in Dinkytown this summer, with the Minneapolis Police Department reporting issues with large groups of disorderly teenagers setting off fireworks and assaulting people.

RELATED: Police pledge to increase safety measures after string of Dinkytown assaults | Results, reaction from first weekend of Dinkytown safety initiative

Crime logs from the University of Minnesota Police Department over the last month also show reports ranging from auto theft to robbery.

“We are not violence interrupters, so when we come upon criminal activity, we call that into 911, but we are a positive presence,” Johnson explained. “We look forward to being in neighborhoods and in places where there have been bad things going on in order to see what we can do and how we can influence it differently. We expect to be able to help calm them down further and that it can be a really good start to the school year for everyone.”

Danny Reyes moved to Dinkytown a few months ago and said he’s had several unnerving experiences, including his car getting broken into and a friend getting beat up by a group of people.

“It’s just gotten worse. It’s pretty bad,” Reyes said. “It’s like a zombieland out here. It gets bad at night.”

He is hopeful the new walking groups will make a difference.

“Nothing’s going to change unless you try, so it’s worth trying, see the results and work from there,” Reyes said. “One step is a step, and it’s better than taking none.”

The new initiative comes amid a growing push from parents, students, and community members to boost safety near campus.

They formed the nonprofit Campus Safety Coalition last July and have grown to include thousands of members.

SEE ALSO: Coalition of parents, Dinkytown businesses push for answers from U of M leaders on public safety | Dinkytown businesses: Consistent rowdy teenage crowds force early closures, hiring private security

The group compiled Minneapolis Police Department data for the neighborhoods surrounding the University of Minnesota and noted, for each month of 2023, crime reports appear to show a year-over-year decrease from 2022.

Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Lunde is also hopeful that crime in Dinkytown will stay on a downward trajectory.

“I have a vested interest in this being a safe environment. My two sons are U of M students,” Lunde said.

Lunde said he is encouraged by community groups creating their own safety initiatives.

He is also co-chairing a new statewide task force this fall that will focus on youth intervention.

He said the group, made up of about two dozen elected officials, mental health experts, members of law enforcement, and corrections officers, will spend the next six months looking at how to bridge the gap with juvenile offenders.

“The plan is to really provide a report back to the legislature and say here’s the changes we need, here’s the things we need to do. And that includes the county. The county needs to do things differently and this will provide us a blueprint,” Lunde noted.

Lunde says the first meeting is scheduled for September.

Meanwhile, the public is invited to participate in Dinkytown’s ‘Safety Walking Group’ every Thursday and Saturday through November.

The group will meet outside Frank and Andrea’s Pizza at 1235 4th Street Southeast in Minneapolis.
The walks will run from 8-11 p.m., with people encouraged to wear walking shoes and bring flashlights.