ST PAUL, Minn. — The University of Minnesota is requesting $100 million in funding from the state legislature to put toward campus safety, including an expansion of the campus police force in the Twin Cities and technological improvements to all five campuses across the state.
Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations Myron Frans told the Senate Higher Education Committee on Tuesday that the school seeks $90 million in one-time funding to spend on infrastructure, camera systems, lighting and other security initiatives, along with $10 million in recurring funds for personnel. Frans also testified in front of a House committee last week.
In an interview, Frans said that a portion of the funding would help increase the authorized force of the University of Minnesota Police Department from 61 officers to 71 officers on the Twin Cities campus. Currently, Frans said, only 52 of the authorized 61 positions are occupied.
"When you look around the country at large universities, especially those universities in large metropolitan areas like the Twin Cities," Frans said, "you see a contingent of uniformed police officers in the neighborhood of 71. We think that would be the right number."
In addition, Frans said the school would seek to add 15 to 20 unarmed security officers and safety escorts over the next several years.
The bulk of the funding request, however, deals with building security and upgrades to surveillance systems on all five campuses. The university would like to add more blue safety kiosks with 911 capabilities and improve building security to make it harder for unauthorized people to access certain spaces. These changes may take a few years to implement, according to Frans.
"So there's camera work, access to building control work, and you can imagine, we have over three million square feet of office space," Frans said. "You can imagine how many doors we have in order to control access."
Mirroring crime trends in the Twin Cities, students have been unsettled the past few years by major incidents on or near campus, including a shooting last summer in Dinkytown and repeated alerts about robberies and cell phone thefts.
Jamila Bihi, a sophomore at the U of M, said she sometimes feels unsafe walking alone on campus and suggested a system of community patrols, like a Neighborhood Watch for campus.
"A lot of things that happen, especially for girls on campus, it's just a little scary," Bihi said. "But I think we can find the resources to figure things out."
Sophomore Jayde Morrissette also applauded the university for requesting additional safety funding. While she said she feels safer this semester, she knows of friends who have had their cell phones stolen and has heard of carjackings and assaults near campus.
"As a sophomore here, I do have a few more years, and I would love for more safety precautions to be taken," Morrissette said. "I really do love going to school here and I hate that safety is always on my mind."
Bernie Gulachek, who heads the IT department at the U of M, told Senate committee members on Tuesday that the school also needs to modernize its systems to guard against data theft and cyberattacks.
"We need to be relentless in the way we manage security," Gulachek said. "That's why this legislative request is so important."
During Tuesday's hearing, which lasted a little more than 20 minutes, members of the Senate Higher Education Committee peppered university officials with questions about the funding request. Ultimately, Senator John Jasinski (R-Faribault) expressed his support for the bill, which will now advance to the Senate Finance Committee before it could possibly hit the floor for a vote.
"When I first looked at the bill, $100 million is a lot of money, but it's a huge institution," Jasinski said. "It's so important to make sure our students are safe, and this really brings the whole University of Minnesota system up to today's technology and will continue on into the future."