U of M launches ‘Operation Gopher Guardian’ as community safety concerns grow

It’s a new effort to keep the University of Minnesota community safe.

“No one should have to feel nervous on campus,” said U of M senior Adam Castella. “You know, yeah, this is Dinkytown, but still, campus is a block away.”

The new effort to restore peace of mind throughout the Twin Cities campus is called Operation Gopher Guardian.

At least 10 MPD and university police officers will be in squads and on foot patrol, working the overnight beat Friday and Saturday for the next two weekends.

“Having more cops, having more people willing to protect us is always a good thing,” said U of M first-year Finn Buelow. “Just like, making sure people feel safe.”

The temporary uptick in security comes after several incidents.

Police say between last Saturday night and early Sunday morning, there were four separate incidents of suspects throwing fireworks at buildings or other people. People were hurt during two of those incidents.

Nate Silverman, a U of M junior, says he saw the fireworks outside his window.

“At first, I thought it was a gunshot,” Silverman recalled. “Then everyone was running, and it was really scary.”

In early June, there were real gunshots. Police say at a shootout along University Avenue, at least fifty rounds were fired. Investigators say a teenager was injured.

“Yeah, I personally would like to see more police here,” Silverman said. “I think the crime has gotten out of hand, especially with a lot of students here, feeling a bit more unsafe.”

But some parents say this temporary ramp-up in security isn’t enough, and that officials should take more permanent steps.

“Immediately, we need more feet on the street, for more than a few hours, or a few weekends in a row,” said U of M parent Beth Ambaruch.

Ambaruch, a member of the group called University of Minnesota Parents For a Safe Campus, said her twin children are third-year students.

“We need more light, more feet on the street, and more programs to help these students who are experiencing this crime and chaos, to have access to professional help if they need it,” Ambaruch said.

Some parents visiting campus this weekend applaud the new initiative but say it shouldn’t be a one-off.

“I think safety on campus is key, especially as a parent. We don’t want our kids in an unsafe environment,” said Scott Hodkiewicz, who has a son at U. “I think anytime you stop the program, the problems are going to come back. So making it a permanent program sounds like the smart thing to do.”

A U of M spokesperson says the school has requested 170 lights to be strategically placed in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood, as well as ten mobile light trailers.

The spokesperson said the University of Minnesota Police Department expects to add seven more officers to its fifty-member force by next January.

The school said it’s also actively recruiting community service officers and additional university security staff. The spokesperson said those groups are mainly used for on-campus safety but are being stretched into nearby neighborhoods when needed.

Silverman said what he wants is pretty simple: “Really hoping to see an improvement in safety… Just want to be safe while we go to classes.”