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MINNEAPOLIS -- The University of Minnesota is upgrading security in response to a series of robberies and other incidents on the Twin Cities campus and surrounding neighborhoods.

University officials stressed that the campus is as safe as it's ever been and year-to-year crime statistics would back up that notion. But the high profile nature of the attacks and the recent spike in thefts of electronic devices such as cell phones, iPads and laptops could not be ignored.

"We are first and foremost concerned about the safety of all of our students, our faculty, our staff," Danita Brown Young, the Vice Provost of Student Affairs, told KARE.

"And for any visitor on this campus, safety is a priority for us."

Some of the changes will be physical, including switching some of the street lights on campus from yellow sodium bulbs to the white metal halide bulbs. Escort services for students will be expanded and the hours for local circulator buses will be increased.

Part of the changes will involve educating students about protecting themselves, with the SAFE U website explaining crime prevention tips. That list includes advising everyone to be more discreet with electronic devices and to be aware of their surroundings, something that doesn't come naturally to students glued to a smart phone screen as they walk around campus.

"We're working on education, enforcement, engaging our student population to be our partners in this," Pam Wheelock, the vice president for University Services, told KARE.

"We've done walk-throughs in our residence halls to remind them, don't walk alone, when something happens call 9-1-1, and don't let your friends walk alone."

Students who came to a University Police Department event Tuesday were supportive of the enhanced security.

"I think it's great that they're going to have connector buses and circulators running until 2 a.m. now, and more lighting in public areas," Nika Antuanette, a U of M student, told KARE.

Smart Phone Kill Switches

In a related development, University President Eric Kaler on Tuesday formally endorsed efforts at the Minnesota Legislature and in Congress to require cell phones to be equipped with "kill switches" that would enable the devices to be rendered useless in the event they're stolen.

"We're talking about a shut-off switch so that the data is not able to be stolen and the privacy invaded by thieves," Sen. Amy Klobuchar remarked at a round table event at the U of M Tuesday.

Minnesota's senior US senator has introduced a bill in Washington that closely mirrors one Rep. Joe Atkins of Inver Grove Heights has thrown into the hopper in St. Paul.

"The point of the kill switch legislation is to take this $500 device, that in the hands of the owner has some value, and turn it into a worthless paper weight if it's stolen," Atkins asserted.

Matt Schmit, the president of the Minnesota Student Association, said he likes the idea of using smart technology to outfox theives and take away the "apple picking" phenomenon, which is responsible for many of the thefts on and near campus.

"You know it's a conversation I have with students, my classmates, every day. And the crimes that have been happening and how that's impacted everyone's lives, it's something that's very relevant to us."

It will result in a political battle, especially since the cell phone providers and manufacturers aren't supportive of the idea. Law enforcement representatives at the round table said they generally support the idea, as long as the phones could be "un-killed" to aid in locating missing persons.

"We're going to continue to do enforcement and we're going to continue to educate," Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau said.

"But to really have an impact on public safety this has to be a collaborative effort."

Immediate Security steps

In the meantime, the U of M is taking the following steps immediately:

  • Extending hours of the Campus Connector bus service between the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses to 2 a.m., seven days a week during spring semester, starting Jan. 21.
  • Extending the hours of the Washington Ave. Bridge Circulator and East Bank Circulator bus services to 2 a.m., Monday through Thursday, starting Jan 21.
  • Implementing a new Weekend Circulator bus service between the East and West Banks beginning Friday, Jan. 24. The bus will run 6:30 p.m. Fridays to 2 a.m. Saturdays; 9:30 a.m. Saturdays to 2 a.m. Sundays; and 9:30 a.m. Sundays until 2 a.m. Mondays.
  • Expanding the Gopher Chauffeur for a second time. The free transportation service will operate from 10 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights during the semester starting Thursday, Jan. 23.
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