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University of Minnesota students tell lawmakers they 'no longer feel safe'

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Concerned students, officials from the University of Minnesota and law enforcement discussed a recent spike in campus crime with lawmakers on a Senate committee on Tuesday.

The Star Tribune reports on paper there has not been a significant change in the campus crime rate. University of Minnesota students expressed their concerns to members of the Senate's Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee after multiple reports of violent crimes this fall.

The Star Tribune report says University of Minnesota student Sara Gottlieb told lawmakers, "We no longer feel safe walking outside."

The crimes have included sexual assaults, muggings and armed robberies in recent weeks in and around campus. Students say they feel targeted no matter what precautions they take.

Lawmakers called the hearing after students voiced concerns about their safety.

Sen. Terri Bonoff told attendees, "We are not here to instill fear but to combat it."

FOX 9 reports Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said many of the criminals on campus are engaging in "apple picking" by targeting students with iPhones and laptops they can sell for money.

"Hiding our phones is not enough.... Walking in groups is not enough," the Star Tribune quotes Gottlieb. "Carrying pepper spray is not enough, as a good friend of ours this weekend had her pepper spray turned against her as she was walking home."

U of M Police Chief Greg Hestness said, "Every backpack has a laptop, every pocket has a smart phone. The presumption is that everyone's got one," according to a report in MinnPost.

Hestness indicated the university has taken steps to combat the problem. They have hired three new officers and university officers have put in more than 200 overtime hours since mid-October to help curb the robberies. The city of Minneapolis has also added extra patrols near campus on the weekends.

The MinnPost report also indicates the school is concerned that the crimes could have an impact on enrollment. Danita Brown Young the U's vice provost of student affairs said that some students are considering moving off campus and out of Minneapolis while others are looking at transferring to a different school. She adds some prospective students are rethinking attending the university at all.

The Minnesota Daily reports University of Minnesota's Board of Regents will discuss campus safety at their meetings Thursday and Friday. Regents will review video surveillance, campus design and public accessibility options.

Minnesota Student Association representatives will given a presentation on campus safety at the meeting on Friday. The group recently surveyed undergraduate students to examine crime perception after the recent uptick around campus.

Nearly 80 percent of students surveyed said they feel "less safe" or "a lot less safe" on or near campus, according to the MSA's report to the board.

Tuesday's meeting followed the latest reported incident around 4:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon. A woman was scraping her car's windshield near the intersection of 13th Avenue and 8th Street on Sunday afternoon when a man showed a handgun and demanded money. The suspect ran off when the woman's boyfriend came to the sidewalk.

Police were unable to locate the suspect.

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