Some students are venting their frustrations over a recent string of crimes at the University of Minnesota, even as officials say increased police patrols are starting to pay off.
As of Tuesday, more than 3,100 people had signed an online petition started by two U students, saying "we have reached our breaking point" and demanding a bigger police presence on and off campus.
"The crime on campus has gotten out of hand, and it needs to be stopped before it gets any worse," says the petition on MoveOn.org.
It was created last week by two liberal arts students, Sara Gottlieb and Rachel Sadowsky, before Sunday's report that a female student had been sexually assaulted near campus by a man posing as a police officer.
The students wrote that they feel "imprisoned in our own homes," unable to go to libraries to study after dark, because of the fear spreading on campus.
The university, however, said it stepped up campus patrols two weeks ago, after an attempted armed robbery in Anderson Hall.
"I share the concern about safety," said Pam Wheelock, vice president of university services. "I think that it is a very good question about what more [students] or the U or the city of Minneapolis can and should be doing to help promote that."
Since Aug. 1, there have been 17 robberies on and around the Minneapolis campus, according to crime alerts issued by the U police. The robbers typically took cellphones and other electronics, sometimes brandishing a gun and sometimes assaulting their victims. The robberies have occurred at all times of the day and night.
The extra patrols, which include Hennepin County sheriff's deputies, "are beginning to show tangible results," Wheelock said in a public safety update released Monday night.
She cited one incident Saturday, when officers "working our robbery suppression detail" arrested three 19-year-old men, none of them students, who were circling an area near Dinkytown around 1:15 a.m. A BB gun and a replica of a .40-caliber Smith and Wesson were found in their vehicle, and the men were booked in jail for "lurking with intent to commit a crime," the update said.
At the same time, "the uptick in crime we've seen is not a problem unique to the University of Minnesota," Wheelock wrote. She noted that a Hamline University student was robbed at gunpoint in September, and an attempted armed robbery was reported last week near Augsburg College. The University of St. Thomas reported it has issued eight public safety alerts for incidents on or near its campuses in St. Paul and Minneapolis since school began this fall.
"For a variety of reasons, criminals see college students as easy targets and in too many instances, the actions of students give criminals the advantage they need," she said.
Wheelock said the U is talking to city officials about increasing police patrols and street lighting near campus. At the same time, the U has stepped up efforts to encourage students to take precautions and avoid walking alone at night.
'This is not enough'
The petitioners brushed off some of those efforts.
"It appears as though the University is doing nothing but sending out crime alerts that remind us to stay in groups and not listen to music as we walk at night," the petition says. "This is not enough. Calling 624-WALK [for security escorts] isn't enough. We as students are doing everything we can to be safe, yet we are still at risk."
They added that they plan to discourage prospective students from applying at the U. "Many of us are applying to transfer because we cannot tolerate feeling so unsafe and vulnerable," they wrote.
The petition was criticized in an editorial Tuesday in the student newspaper, the Minnesota Daily, for "threatening the University with bad publicity."
"While we agree with the intentions of the petition's authors," the editorial said, "this attempt to intimidate potential University students is not beneficial to the security and well-being of our campus." It urged students to "look out for each other and focus on what proactive measures they can take themselves to improve campus security."
Star Tribune staff writer Matt McKinney contributed to this report. Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384