While University students and staff were making their way back from President Barack Obama’s address Friday morning, another event was taking place just up South State Street.
At noon on Friday, the University of Michigan Department Of Public Safety held its second-ever public crime meeting at the Michigan Union. Twenty-one DPS officers and staff members led the meeting, which was intended to highlight crime statistics and community goals for the semester.
Though about 20 civilians attended the meeting, only about four students were present, three of which were Central Student Government officials.
Interim DPS Director Joseph Piersante began the meeting by describing crime trends since 2007, noting that while larcenies decreased from 840 in 2010 to 611 in 2011, robberies are up since 2010, increasing from seven to nine reports in 2011. Aggravated assault reports have also increased, from six in 2010, to nine in 2011.
Piersante said sexual assault reports have decreased since 2010, but noted that statistics can be misleading since sexual assault cases are often underreported.
A reoccurring theme of the meeting was the dangers of leaving valuables unattended in trusted public environments like libraries. Most thefts involve laptops and cell phones and occur in the Medical Science buildings, as well as the Duderstadt Center on North Campus.
Piersante said even though students think leaving their items unattended for less than a minute isn’t dangerous, the thefts are “crimes of opportunity,” and therefore can happen at any time, adding that many laptop thieves are repeat offenders.
Though few University administrators attended the first DPS crime meeting , several were present at Friday’s forum.
In an interview after the meeting, Timothy Slottow, the University’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, noted several challenges that DPS needs to consider for 2012.
“Larceny, increasing the awareness of how to keep the campus safe and working together to use social media are things we need to consider to make this an even safer, even more inspiring place to do our work and be students, staff and faculty,” Slottow said.
Laura Blake Jones, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, commended DPS on its consistent service to the community.
“They work day in and day out 24/7 to make this as safe a campus as possible and I can’t say enough about the contributions they make,” Jones said.
LSA junior Stephanie Hamel, co-chair of the Central Student Government’s Student Safety Commission and a student safety assistant in the Dean of Student Affairs Office, said even though some students doubt the effectiveness of the DPS laptop sticker program — a free service that assigns a registration number and barcode to student computers — it has aided in the recovery of many computers.
“If your laptop is recovered, (DPS) will be able to trace it to you and let you pick up your recovered laptop,” Hamel said.
CSG President DeAndree Watson, who was also in attendance at the event, praised the work of DPS on campus and their initiatives to make law enforcement more transparent to students and staff.
“I’m really excited that they are eager to engage the student body in the process, that they’re actively listening to the concerns that are coming from our student safety commission and that they look forward to working with them to implement some of the strategies in the best possible manner,” Watson said.
After the meeting, Piersante said DPS is working to understand at what time, location and date more students would be able to attend meetings.
“What I would like to do is reach out with different students and the dean of students to find out what is a good time for students to get to these things,” Piersante said. “Yes, I would like to see more student involvement.”
Crime meetings were a product of former DPS Chief Greg O’Dell, who committed suicide last month. Piersante said O’Dell would have wanted the meetings to continue.
“I knew Greg fairly well for about 15 years going back to when he was a deputy chief in Ann Arbor and when I was a deputy chief here, and we worked together,” Piersante said. “I have a lot of respect for him, and I want to continue this program in the future.”
—Daily News Editor Adam Rubenfire contributed to this report.