Thieves Target U of M Students for Phones, Tablets

Updated: 12/11/2013 12:36 PM By: Tom Hauser

University of Minnesota Police are working closely with the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office and Minneapolis Police to step up patrols on and around the campus. 

UMPD Chief Greg Hestness says there's been an "uptick" in the number of crimes in neighborhoods around the campus, especially robberies and attempted robberies.  He knows why students are targeted.

"Every backpack has a laptop; every pocket has a smart phone," Hestness says.

Sheriff Rich Stanek agrees. "Nationwide, there has been a dramatic increase in street-level robberies," Stanek told a Senate Higher Education Committee on Tuesday. "Much of that increase is attributed to emerging technologies, iPhones and tablets."

U of M students Sara Gottlieb and Rachel Sadowsky started a petition drive to demand more public safety measures near the campus.  "All our friends, everyone around us has been talking about it and one of our friends finally became the victim and we just couldn't take it anymore," Gottlieb told KSTP after the hearing. 

Sadowsky says programs like the "Gopher Chauffeur" are helpful in giving students free, safe rides near campus. However, as someone who works as a dispatcher for the service, she knows it's often overwhelmed. "I can say firsthand that at times the wait can be up to two-and-a-half hours for a ride," she says. 

During a shift last weekend she estimates 80 phone calls couldn't even be answered because the lines were so jammed.

UMPD Chief Hestness says his officers have stepped up patrols and worked more than 200 overtime hours in recent weeks. In addition, the Hennepin County Sheriff now dedicates four deputies to patrolling near the campus on weekend nights until 5 a.m. 

Police officials also remind students to help keep themselves safe by never walking alone and not making it obvious they're carrying valuable electronic devices.

The Senate hearing was just informational, and no legislation is planned unless the problem becomes worse at the U of M and other college campuses in the Twin Cities.