Thursday, November 22, 2012

Chicago Crime: Man murdered while trying to help woman

Following an incident earlier this week in downtown Chicago, I had been writing a piece about intervening in ongoing crimes. For those who did not hear about the attack, an older man was stabbed and beaten during an attempted robbery in a restaurant bathroom. A citizen who tried to intervene outside was also slashed. The assailant fled but was apprehended shortly thereafter. Thankfully, both victims survived. What separated this attack from the dozen or so other shootings that happened over the weekend? The attack happened in the Westin Hotel, specifically in The Grill on the Alley restaurant, which are about the poshest two places that an attack has happened in Chicago since Al Capone's era.
A great place for drinks, dinner, dessert, and ARMED ROBBERY
As is the Chicago custom, big downtown incidents draw big press coverage. The brave bartender got a much deserved write up in the local papers. Although he did not stop the suspect, his courage was uncommon and exemplary.

Unfortunately, an eerily similar incident later in the week showed the dangers of crime intervention. On the night of November 21, a distressed woman knocked on the door of 55 year old William Terry of Chicago's Rosemoor neighborhood. She was seeking refuge from her husband in the aftermath of a violent argument. The woman's husband saw Mr. Terry's actions and went home, returning to Mr. Terry's residence with two knives. He and Mr. Terry argued, culminating in the man stabbing Mr. Terry repeatedly. The 55 year old Good Samaritan died on the scene. The killer fled and as of 11/22 is not in custody.

As mentioned earlier, I have a longer piece in the works that gets into greater detail about the philosophy, dangers, and risks behind intervening in ongoing crimes. These two incidents serve as real world illustrations of what can happen to real world heroes. On a more technical level, they also show the unpredictability of dealing with knives. Sometimes a stab to the neck sends you to the hospital, and a poke to the arm sends you to the morgue.

Someone stop that clerk from robbing those two hooded men!
As a general rule, never intervene in an ongoing crime. It is almost always better to summon the police, stay back, and provide as much witness testimony as possible. This is especially true in regards to certain crimes. During a straight up fight, whether involving fists, knives, or guns, it is often unclear who the "bad guys" are. That knowledge alone does not mean you should intervene, but if you end up engaging, it at least gives you some valuable information.

The real criminal mastermind? That kid on the locker.

Other crimes, such as most fights, brawls, batteries, and especially domestic disputes, have unclear sides. You will never know who started the confrontation and who is only "defending themselves". Someone who started the fight may now be on the ground. Someone who was attacked might now be delivering a beating. The fight might even be mutually agreed upon, and your intrusion could cause both parties to ally against you. In all cases, intervention is just too risky.

Even with training, no engagement is certain. Your first course of action when you see a crime should always be to call the police. Even if you ultimately intervene, you need to make sure that law enforcement is on the way. Remember, the police have training, experience, and above all, legal protection in arresting suspects. Even the best martial artists lack that shield.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

UChicago Crime Report: Robberies near 52nd and Blackstone/Dorchester

Even with temperatures dropping, violent crime still continues in Hyde Park. Although incidents occur less in winter than in summer months, criminals don't hibernate.

Incident Location Date/Time Occurred Comment
Robbery Dorchester between 51st & 52nd 11/11/12 8:10 PM Two unknown males forcibly took a cell phone from a victim walking on the sidewalk off campus
Robbery 53rd between Dorchester & Blackstone 11/12/12 3:00 PM Unknown male grabbed iPhone from the hand of a victim walking on the sidewalk off campus and fled on foot

There is a temptation to connect these two attacks. They both happened in the same area. They were both strongarm robberies that did not involve weapons. In both attacks, they targeted a person who was walking with a cellphone in hand. All that being admitted, I am hesitant to link the incidents. If nothing else, it appears that the first two attackers forced the victim to yield his phone. The second unknown male simply snatched the device and fled.

That advice is neither new nor surprising. Phone-related crime should never happen to you as a reader of this blog. I feel somewhat like a hovering grandparent ("Now dear, don't talk on your phone when you walk!"). But that doesn't detract from the advice. You should not be walking while talking on the phone, unless you are also frequently scanning over your shoulder and around your route. It does not matter whether you are in the Loop or waiting for the bus at 63rd and Loomis. The same goes for browsing on smart phones. As important as that 43rd page of Reddit is, it isn't worth your property or safety.

More importantly, don't let people get so close to you without indicating your awareness of their presence. Pass on your average-Joe-Chicago greeting of "How's it goin?" or even just a small raise of the eyebrows. Not the creepy eyebrow raise, or the Rock's eyebrow raise. Just a quick "Sup", but with your eyebrows. Or even give a nod. This is a good habit even if you aren't worried about getting robbed. It turns out that the best self-defense advice in this situation is something you almost never hear in self-defense: Be nice and be friendly.

It works no matter where you are. If people walking by you don't wish you ill, then you can enjoy a small exchange from 1950s Main Street. If those people do want to harm you, you have just indicated that you are a slightly harder target than they first expected. By looking them in the eye, you have proven your ability to identify this guy or girl after the crime. By acknowledging their presence, you have exhibited an awareness and alertness that most civilians don't have. At this point, your prospective robber/attacker might rethink his plan. He might as well just wait 5 more minutes for someone less aware and ready to come along.

Most predators rely on surprise. If you negate the advantage of surprise, you nullify their primary weapon. While they might still commit to an attack, you will still have the initiative. Unless you act like a jerk, the small greeting is not going to provoke an attack. If it does, you were probably going to get jumped anyway; at least now you are ready.  

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.

Friday, November 2, 2012

UChicago Crime Report: Attack between 53rd/54th and Woodlawn

Just received this email from the UCPD chief Marlon Lynch. In case you have not, or are looking at Facebook before email, here is the description of the crime:
November 2, 2012            
Security Alert
At approximately 8:40 a.m., Friday, November 2 – a University student walking south on Woodlawn Avenue between 53rd Street and 54th Street while talking on a cell phone was approached by two unknown males walking northbound. One of the suspects pulled the victim’s hair as he grabbed the cell phone. Both suspects fled north on foot. The victim declined medical attention.

Another early morning incident on a relatively populated street. Many crimes happen exactly as we expect: On dark streets in the middle of the night. You may have statistical reasons to relax your guard during the day, whether it be temperature, precipitation, or neighborhood. Having analyzed the data, I can say with statistical confidence that it is unlikely for robberies to happen at 8:40 AM in Hyde Park when the temperature is under 50 degrees. That makes for good research and evidence for policy. Unfortunately, it also makes for bad self-defense strategy. I have heard of robberies happening on rainy Wednesdays in the Loop. Is it rare? Yes. If it happens to you, will you care about its probability? No.

Keep safe and stay aware. Don't let your cell-phones and other devices distract you, no matter what time or temperature it is.