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Minn. Senate Panel Looks Into Campus Safety

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO/AP) — Minnesota senators are hoping to learn more about campus crime and security in the wake of several high-profile incidents.

The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee was holding a hearing Tuesday. Law enforcement officials as well as representatives from private and public colleges in the Twin Cities were scheduled to testify.

Since August, there have been more than two dozen robberies around campus.

Hennepin County Sheriff Rick Stanek said his office has already added four deputies to patrol campus every Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

But he said lawmakers, law enforcement and students need to do more.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Sheriff Stanek said robberies have gone up 12 percent since this time last year.

He said we’re seeing an uptick in what’s called “apple picking.” That describes cases where criminals steal smartphones, tablets and computers — sometimes — right out of a person’s hands.

The sheriff said there are ways we all can help stop these crimes.

“We see folks walking down the street, down the corridor, even down the halls of the Capitol and they’ll be looking at their iPhone, not paying attention — they’re distracted,” he said. “Now we tell people, ‘Look, you’re responsible for your physical safety. Pay attention to your physical surroundings as well as what’s happening in and around you immediately.”

University President Eric Kaler sent a letter to faculty, staff and students expressing his concerns over the recent uptick in crime and addressed the school’s efforts.

Kaler said safety remains a high priority — since 2004, the school has invested $15 million in campus security, which includes 1,700 security cameras monitored 24 hours a day, 158 buildings and 2,600 doors with card access readers and 20 emergency phones across campus.

He said since Sept. 17, there have been 23 arrests, plus several citations, for on- and off-campus crime.

Still, the spate of reported robberies and sexual assaults near the University of Minnesota and elsewhere has some students and their parents on edge. Officials at the university say crime is actually down, but the violent nature of some recent offenses has contributed to the unease.

“While recent crime incidents are alarming, the U is a safe campus overall. Between 2002 and 2012, on-campus crime decreased 43 percent. Unfortunately, we have recently experienced higher numbers of more brazen crimes,” Kaler stated in his letter.

Minneapolis Police say urban expansion of student housing may be a reason they’re seeing more criminal activity.

In the last month, Minneapolis Police have added officers to patrol areas around the university.

Despite the added security, some University students told a state Senate Committee they feel targeted and unsafe.

“Safety is an issue for every single one of us on campus,” sophmore Rachel Sadowsky said. “And we all want and deserve to feel safe in the place we live and attend school.”

No specific legislation was discussed.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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