Friday, November 9, 2012

UChicago Crime Report: Sexual assault, robbery, and UCPD failures

The theme this week is failure, specifically the failures by the UCPD. I respect their work, their frustrations, and their extreme stress on the job. I also understand the strained relationship that the UCPD sometimes has with UChicago and Hyde Park, and the difficulties in working under such conditions. Unfortunately, in this case, this does not excuse their errors from the past week:

Incident Location Date/Time Occurred Comment
Aggravated Battery Woodlawn between 53rd & 54th 11/2/12 1:10 AM Victim walking on the sidewalk cut on the leg by an unknown assailant
Robbery Woodlawn between 53rd & 54th 11/2/12 8:40 AM Two unknown males forcibly took a cell phone from a victim walking on the sidewalk
Theft from Person 901 E. 55th St. (CTA Bus) 11/3/12 8:10 PM Unknown male grabbed iPhone from victim's hand while exiting CTA bus
Aggravated Robbery 60th between Metra & Stony Island 11/6/12 6:40 PM Three males took a cell phone and cash from a victim walking on the sidewalk / Weapon implied - no weapon seen
Aggravated Robbery 60th between Metra & Stony Island 11/7/12 5:28 PM Two males, one of whom implied he had a weapon, took property from a victim walking on the sidewalk off campus / No weapon was displayed

Before we even get started on the formal incident reports, we need to talk about another attack that happened on Monday.

On November 6th, a teenage girl was sexually assaulted just west of Woodlawn off of 51st Street. The attacker, a 6 ' 2" - 4" black male of medium build, approached the girl from behind and moved her in between a pair of garages off the main street. The article notes that the man was wearing "a black jacket with yellow stripes from the shoulder down, blue jeans, and black Nike shoes".

A lot of you might not have heard of this crime. This wouldn't surprise me. It was buried on the Tribune front page and then removed entirely, probably because election coverage was getting more hits. The UCPD also did not note this in its Incident log from 11/6 (Link), probably because the attack was reported to the CPD and not the UCPD. Making matter worse, the UCPD also did not send out an email or alert about the incident, probably because no students or community members were in imminent danger.

As much as I dislike the Tribune's penchant for burying crime reports under more attractive stories, I understand the habit; they need to sell subscriptions and violent South Side tales just don't sell. Indeed, the Trib just gives readers what they want. It cannot be entirely faulted if its audience wants to ignore the realities of life in the "other" Chicagos.

The UCPD, however, is absolutely at fault in this case. It is not really in the wrong for excluding the assault from its incident report. If nothing else, I think about as many people read that report as attend local CPD Beat Meetings. That said, the UCPD absolutely had a responsibility to send out an email to the community.

For one, the assailant is likely to attack someone again. Although he is unlikely to do so in the same day or even week (or even neighborhood), the community should be made aware of his presence. There are many young female scholars living in that area, in addition to teens and families. The UCPD should be the first entity to inform locals of any danger.

More importantly, the 14-year old victim provided an unusually detailed description of her attacker. Community members and students should have been given that description as soon as possible, to better assist the police in finding the attacker. Maybe he traveled West or North after assaulting the woman, but maybe he walked South into Hyde Park. If the UCPD had sent out an email, any pedestrian with email access could have identified him and called the police. How many 6'4" middle-aged, medium build, yellow-striped-black-jacket men are walking around the area at any given time? And as we know from every other incident report, UChicago students don't put down their smart phones for anything short of a zombie apocalypse (and only then because some students have waited all their lives for that event). Someone would have seen the description and might have ID'd the attacker.

Let's put on our Sherlock Holmes hats (or coats, if you prefer the modern version) and look for a pattern in the two crimes below.

Incident Location Date/Time Occurred Comment
Aggravated Robbery 60th between Metra & Stony Island 11/7/12 5:28 PM Two males, one of whom implied he had a weapon, took property from a victim walking on the sidewalk off campus / No weapon was displayed
Aggravated Robbery 60th between Metra & Stony Island 11/6/12 6:40 PM Three males took a cell phone and cash from a victim walking on the sidewalk / Weapon implied - no weapon seen


Even my Dungeons and Dragons groups could figure out this pattern. Of course, they would need a 10 foot pole and an 800 foot rope, and it would still take them 4 hours. But they would eventually get it.

This is EXACTLY what happens when you don't alert community members to a robbery that happens in the area. I have always believed that the UCPD should send alerts about every single robbery, not just those affecting students or occurring on campus. When they don't, it increases the chances that someone falls victim to the EXACT SAME ATTACK as happened earlier.

Here's roughly what happened. Two guys robbed someone under the tracks. The victim reported it to the police right away (5:28 by the incident report here). The police presumably came to investigate and canvass the scene. So far so good.

But then the failures started. For one, no email went out. There are a lot of students and University employees who use that thoroughfare under the tracks, especially after work gets out. They needed to know that robberies were occurring in the area, and to keep their eyes open. Admittedly, the UCPD had no way of knowing that the second attack would happen just an hour later, but a quick email might have prevented it.

Making matters worse, where was the additional security in that area? For that matter, who don't we have a security guard at the tracks? This is not the first time someone has been attacked here. A coworker of mine was mugged at that exact location three years ago. Two attacks happened there this summer alone. The 60th Metra Tracks are a high value target area, with distracted commuters just trying to make their next connection, buried in their phones and tired from the day.

The initial failures in handling the incident led to the subsequent attack, occurring just 1 hour and 10 minutes later. This time, the robbers must have been having so much success that they brought another friend to join in. Whatever it was that happened, the UCPD might have prevented it with better communication and diligence.

All of that being said, I understand that the UCPD is doing a pretty darn good job and they don't deserve too much criticism. Crime, both violent and non-violent, is down in Hyde Park. Yes, this reflects a national and citywide trend, but at least the UCPD is keeping pace with it. Patrols are increased, communication is certainly better, and I see a lot more arrests in the incident reports. Well done on those counts.

The problem remains with communication. I have always believed that UCPD representatives should send out an alert for every single violent crime in the area, whether a robbery, assault, or battery. It also should not matter who the victim was. Robbers only look for easy prey, not discriminating between students and non-students. Similarly, fights and altercations will never explicitly target students, but we might get stuck in the crossfire. If the UCPD made better use of its alert system, some crimes might be prevented, especially those that occur within 1 hour of each other in the exact same location with the exact same attackers.

In defense of the UCPD, however, UChicago is often equally irresponsible in communicating with the UCPD. Crimes are reported late (the second Metra robbery didn't get reported until later that night). Students also never go to UCPD community meetings; student government representatives are always the only people in attendance. The only time in recent memory where students showed up in force to UCPD meetings was when a student was arrested in the Reg for not producing his ID on officer command. We don't care about the UCPD until something happens, especially if they are the bad guys.

So the responsibility lies with both parties. The UCPD must be better in its alerts and communication. Students, however, must reciprocate the effort. Like most social processes, that sounds like a long and arduous one, but I imagine that the results would be worthwhile in the end.

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