U of M creates Safety Advisory Committee to address off-campus crime

UPDATE: President Gabel, Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations Myron Frans, and UMPD Chief Matthew Clark presented a public safety plan to the Board of Regents on Wednesday. 

“We’re concerned and we want to make sure we face the challenges that we heard about Monday from our parents and neighbors,” said Frans.

He explained the University plans to add 10 unarmed community services officers and increase the number of UMPD officers from 61 to 66 this year and then from 66 to 71 in 2023.

“I want to make sure we keep crime down and I want to make sure we get to those calls in time so 71 officers does do it for us,” said Chief Clark.

The University hired a consultant, Cedric Alexander, in 2020 to review its public safety practices. He issued a report with dozens of recommendations, which included increasing the total number of officers on the force to 71. The increase allows the department to have five officers on duty at all times.

Mayor Frey recently nominated Alexander as the new community safety commissioner in Minneapolis.

The University plans to hire a recruiter dedicated specifically to public safety engagement.

Regent Douglas Huebsch asked, “How much is the imbalance in supply and demand of officers in the State of Minnesota and how do we go about getting more if there’s a serious imbalance?”

Frans responded by saying the move is an investment in the future.

“I don’t have a crystal ball for when we’re going to get to the number that we want but it’s probably not going to be this year and it’s probably not going to be next year,” said Frans.

Regents also asked whether UMPD would consider expanding its off-campus response.

“I think we should strongly have that conversation if we can expand what we cover because this is our community,” said Regent Darrin Rosha.

Regent Mike Kenyanya suggested a partnership with the city, in which MPD would defer jurisdiction UMPD and fund the response.

“Is such an arrangement, has that been done? Is that feasible?” said Kenyanya.

Clark responded, “I just caution you on the idea that we’re going to take over any part outside of this campus, we have enough work here and the liability is high.”

Universities and colleges are required to provide safety alerts for incidents around campus under the Clery Act. Frans said they are open to considering sending alerts out for incidents that occur across a larger geographical area.

“This is worthy of a discussion,” said Frans.” “The discussion will help folks realize the difficulty of what we’re working within and what are the practical ways we can extend that.”

PREVIOUS STORY: Leaders at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities campus have announced a new initiative to help keep students safe off campus.

According to the officials, University President Joan Gabel says the school has formed its first-ever Strategic Safety Advisory Committee.

The committee will be made of students who attend the university, parents and family members, staff, faculty, and representatives from the City, Minneapolis Police Department and the University of Minnesota Police Department. Group members are expected to receive their invitations to join the group at some point this week, and their first meeting could be held as early as next week.

Students and parents have sounded off on safety concerns following criminal activity near the school, with many parents asking if the campus is safe for their children.

RELATED: U of M parents sound off on safety concerns amid violence on and near campus

As previously reported last week, two Dinkytown apartments were hit by overnight gunfire, one of them occupied by Makayla Pahl, who is a member of the Gopher women’s hockey team. The shooting also caused a nearby restaurant, Burrito Loco, to close until further notice.

RELATED: Police: Dinkytown apartments hit by gunfire overnight, no injuries reported

University officials say the group will be asked to bring up priority needs that could be acted on by either the school or the City of Minneapolis. Needs could include maintaining safety levels on campus, considering other strategies for enhancing safety and promoting safety in neighborhoods near campus.

In a release announcing the committee’s creation, Gabel issued the following statement:

“Our Twin Cities campus is fortunate to have the dedicated and hardworking officers and non-officer teams of the University of Minnesota Police Department (UMPD) and Department of Public Safety. They do an outstanding job ensuring a safe environment on our campus. But we also know that the University community stretches beyond campus boundaries to the off-campus Minneapolis neighborhoods where many of our students, as well as faculty and staff, live. The University continues to invest significantly and partner with local agencies to enhance safety and deter crime. But urgent and real safety concerns demand more collaboration than ever before to find effective layered solutions. That can only be accomplished by bringing together a group like this one. It will help us examine what tools we already have or need to support our partnerships with the City of Minneapolis and Minneapolis Police Department, and how we can enhance public safety in these off-campus neighborhoods.”

University President Joan Gabel

Wednesday, members of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents are expected to meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a Public Safety Plan for the upcoming school year.