U of M president leaves public safety meeting after 10 minutes

Nearly 200 parents met with campus and Minneapolis leaders to discuss the rise in violent crime Monday night.

University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel attends a public safety meeting Monday night. (University of Minnesota/YouTube)

University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel Zoomed into an in-person public safety forum Monday night and left after just 10 minutes, angering some parents who fear for their children’s safety.

The university has seen a 45 percent increase in violent crime since 2019.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, Minneapolis Interim Police Chief Amelia Huffman, and University of Minnesota Police Chief Matt Clark listened to parents’ concerns for more than an hour.

“What the issue is was exemplified really well in the president of the university making a million dollars a year [but] was able to attend 10 minutes of this meeting,” said Harry Kennedy, a concerned parent.

A spokesperson said Gabel had a previous commitment that did not allow her to attend the forum in-person.

“Arranging the schedules of Mayor Frey, President Gabel, U of M Senior Vice President Frans, and the two police chiefs proved to be incredibly challenging,” said the spokesperson. “Leadership chose to meet as soon as possible rather than waiting several weeks for the schedules to align to allow all leaders to attend in-person. The same commitment was why she was not able to attend the duration of the forum.”

Before departing, Gabel said the university is working on recruiting and retaining more officers.

“We have programs that both groups (UMPD and MPD) are doing to grow, retain and increase the size of police force strength you’re going to hear a lot about. The mayor’s been doing really important and good work in that space,” said Gabel.

She said the university has invested more than $60 million in public safety over the last two years and unsuccessfully asked the Minnesota Legislature for another $100 million.

It wasn’t until after she left that parents were able to share their concerns.

“My son told me … ‘Mom and Dad, do you know that every single day that I wake up to go to class I’m scared for my life? I don’t know if I’m going to get mugged, shot or beaten up and every single night I go to bed and I think, wow I survived another day,'” said Brian Pecks, a parent.

“That to me tells me the money that we’re spending is not moving the needle. So we need to try something different,” he added.

One mother got emotional as she explained how her son and his friends have to band together to “avoid getting robbed, shot, and beaten up every day.”

Some parents demanded campus and city leaders change their rhetoric and stop stereotyping police officers.

“Start changing the message because when that message changes and police feel supported then you’ll start retaining police and you’ll get people that want to be law enforcers,” one parent said.

“Recruitment is tough because of the rhetoric and the atmosphere,” Kennedy added. “I don’t think this mayor and president have a strong commitment to public safety. I hope you prove us all wrong.”

Following Monday’s safety meeting, the university announced a new community collaboration to address off-campus public safety concerns.

Concerns for student safety escalated in early June following a string of high-profile crimes at a problem property near campus, including a shootout and a violent carjacking involving multiple assaults.

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents was scheduled to meet Wednesday to take up a new safety plan for next school year.