Criminal education

Outrage grows over the escalating crime and violence at the U of M.

It’s nerve-wracking enough sending a child off to college these days given rampant partying, political correctness, and crushing student loans. But parents of students on the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus now face a chilling new concern: fear their child could get carjacked, shot, mugged, or robbed.

Authorities report a 45 percent increase in violent crime on and near the U’s Minneapolis campus since 2019. Police data for the U of M “neighborhood” show there were an average of 18 violent crimes per month in the first half of 2022, versus an average of 12 violent crimes per month in 2019.

An attack near the school’s medical complex on August 9, which prompted a campus safety alert, has become all too common: “U of M Twin Cities assault occurred at 12:15 p.m. Victim was chased by the suspect who threatened her with a knife. Victim successfully escaped…[suspect] last seen under 14th Ave. near Dinkytown. Be cautious and avoid the area.”

For Brian Peck of Maple Grove, the wake-up call came when his son texted video of a June 3 gun fight at a notorious non-university residential building just down from his fraternity house. More than 50 shots were fired as the gunmen and panicked students scattered in all directions, leaving a 15-year-old boy wounded in the leg.

Peck, a 1994 Gophers graduate, had no clue about the peril students face at his alma mater. “When that shooting happened my son said, ‘Mom and dad, do you know that every single day I wake up to go to class I’m scared for my life? I don’t know if I’m going to get mugged, shot or beaten up and every single night I go to bed I think, wow, I survived another day.’”

Yet that wasn’t the first high-profile shootout near the U. A year earlier, a gun fight in Dinkytown left five people wounded. Residents like Morgan McElroy witnessed a steady escalation of violence and lawlessness while living in a Dinkytown apartment.

“My first year living there felt totally safe. I would walk around at night alone,” said McElroy, a 2021 U graduate. “By my senior year somebody was literally murdered in my apartment complex parking garage, so I definitely did not feel safe. When I go back there now, I won’t walk anywhere alone. I don’t even like parking my car out there when it’s dark.”

The imminent danger and inability to contain it led hundreds of parents to join forces more than a year and a half ago in a grassroots Facebook group to publicize the threat and press officials to take action. The group, “U of MN parents – campus safety,” now has 2,000 members. But they didn’t get very far until the gun battle across from the U’s armory and athletic complex went viral.“

As a parent group we’d been emailing, texting, tweeting, writing letters, you name it to Mayor Frey, to [president] Joan Gabel, to the U,” said Erin Brumms, whose son’s roommate was robbed of his cell phone and forced to empty his Venmo account. “But no responses, very canned responses. There was definitely a feeling of apathy, and it really angered the parent group.”

One of their key concerns? A perceived lack of campus support for police, complicating recruitment, and retention of officers. University president Joan Gabel’s decision to reduce some ties with MPD after George Floyd’s death in May 2020 particularly rubs many the wrong way. As of this writing, the number of university cops remains 20 percent under the authorized force of 66 full-time officers.“

Most disappointing is how some of the officers are being treated in the last two years,” UMPD Chief Matt Clark said at the Board of Regents meeting in June. “…They believe in the university, but when they’re not treated well, they won’t stay. I had four young officers come on just recently and three of the four quit, and they cited the reasons of this behavior.”

The relentless parental pressure and increased media coverage finally got through to the Board of Regents and top administrators.

“We’ve all been hearing from students and parents about concerns with safety,” Regent Darrin Rosha said at the June meeting. “And I would suggest we’re hearing from a very small percentage of the people who actually have those concerns.”

“I am alarmed and concerned just like all of us,” president Joan Gabel said at the meeting. “And I want to express on behalf of everyone at the university that the administration wants nothing more than to address this challenge and bring crime down.”

Since then, the university has held public safety forums to give parents a platform to vent their grievances. The administration also included parents on a hastily created Strategic Safety Advisory Committee that’s pushing for new MPD and sheriff patrols, hiring more university police, more U officers assisting in off-campus areas, and 10 new community service officers, all part of a fall safety campaign to better secure the campus and areas around it.

In the meantime, however, Erin Brumms tells her son to holster his cell phone, pack Mace and not take chances. “I don’t know that we as a parent group can do it,” Brumms said. “But we’re certainly going to try.”