Tuesday, January 8, 2013

UChicago Crime Report: Hyde Park violent crime down 12%

In this article, I discuss the drop in Hyde Park violent crime from 2011 to 2012. I will go over the types of crime, the number of attackers, the weapons used in those attacks, and a variety of other nuanced points bout local Hyde Park crime. Whether you are a student, a social worker, a martial artist, a concerned Chicagoan, or some combination of the above, there is something in here just for you.

It is no secret that Chicago had a bad year for violent crime. Murders increased, along with shootings and gang conflicts, and the national media never backed down in reporting these trends. The city is not off to a promising start in this new year, with at least 12 already shot or stabbed to death since midnight on January 1. Thankfully, as even a cursory statistical glance would show, most of the city was sheltered from this rise in violent crime. Communities like Lincoln Park, the Gold Coast, Wicker Park, and a variety of other neighborhoods where more privileged demographics congregate all experienced only minor crime fluctuations in 2012. One such neighborhood actually saw a fairly major decrease in violent crime in 2012, despite its proximity to some of the most dangerous communities in the city.

Between January 1 and December 31, Hyde Park enjoyed some very positive changes to its patterns of violent crime in previous years. Overall violent crime was down, as was firearm related crime and incidents. Although Hyde Park has historically, at least for the last decade, avoided those gang and gun related attacks that tend to characterize the rest of the South Side, our neighborhood has always had a robbery problem. A UCPD Officer I once spoke to unofficially confirmed that most robbers and attackers live outside the area, sometimes traveling many miles to arrive in our college-town neighborhood. Even so, the area still has about as many robberies per year as the Loop, a well-patrolled and peopled part of the city

It is a fairly common University myth that the neighborhood is dangerous, one that causes me no end of annoyance. If you want to see dangerous, travel southwest to 62nd and Champlain, just west of Cottage Grove. Not down to 63rd and Ellis (no more dangerous than 55th and Ellis) or north to Kenwood (I mean really, the PRESIDENT OF THE COUNTRY lives there). But Hyde Park itself? This is about as safe as urban neighborhoods get anywhere, let alone in Chicago. We have our small share of crime, but most of it is preventible through common sense, something that is sadly in short supply at our lofty University. The vast, vast majority of students get through their time at UChicago without witnessing a non-Socratic argument, let alone an attack.

These safety myths is equally annoying to the UCPD, which has done an excellent job of reducing area crime and preserving student safety in tandem with the University and its private, unarmed security guards posted on corners. Given the high ranking of our University and its attractiveness to prospective students, it is important that we as a community know exactly what our crime numbers are; it would be a shame to scare away students based off of tall-tales. The data shows that at least in 2012, the UCPD did a truly commendable job of preventing crimes and quickly apprehending suspects.

From 2011 to 2012, UChicago-area violent crime fell from 103 to 91 incidents. This drop was most pronounced in robberies; in 2011, the area had 71 robberies. In 2012, however, it had only 50, representing an impressive 30% drop. The number of armed robberies in which a firearm was used also decreased, from a 2011 total of 38 to a 2012 tally of 17.

It must be noted that "violent crime" includes crimes targeting both students and non-students, both on campus (in dorms, fraternities, nearby corners, etc.) and off campus (bus-stops not near UChicago, student apartment areas, etc.). As such, there is a wide range of perpetrators included in the data. Some perpetrators are students. Some are not. Because there is no consistent or reliable way to classify an attacker, I have not attempted to.

Batteries and strongarm robberies remained roughly constant between the two years. Snatch-and-run incidents, in which an attacker simply grabs an object and flees without altercation, increased slightly, from 13 to 21. Given the prevalence of handheld devices on campus, this is a pleasant surprise, as we might expect this number to increase much more dramatically than it did.

Overall, it was a good year for the UCPD, and a safer year for University students. Although there were some nasty, highly publicized incidents on campus (many of which I posted about), the holistic picture was a good one for our school. The table below summarizes the most interesting results of the 2011-2012 comparison.
(NOTE: All data was taken from individual UCPD Daily Incident Reports in all months of 2011 and 2012. Crimes were classified based on UCPD identification. "Violent crimes" include battery, assault, and robbery. Data excludes crimes that were just reported to the CPD and not to the UCPD; notably absent is a shooting that occurred near Lake Shore Drive over the summer. The dataset is still quite comprehensive and withstands scrutiny when compared to CPD data)

Crime 2011 2012 % Change
Total violent crime 103 91 -12%
Robbery with a handgun 38 17 -55%
Strongarm Robbery 42 47 +12%
Snatch and run
("Theft from Person")
13 21 +61%
Battery 14 11 -21%

I am hesitant to include some of the percent changes because they can appear more spectacular than the absolute differences between totals. For example, a 61% increase in thefts from person seems big, but it only accounted for 8 incidents all year. You will notice that the data above does not quite add up; both the 2012 and 2011 columns have a few crimes unaccounted for. These were extremely isolated incidents (e.g. sexual assaults) that represent no crime pattern worth mentioning. Moreover, out of respect for the victims of such isolated incidents, there is no need to call undue attention to them here.

In the table below, I separate crimes by month. This gives some sense of the "worst/dangerous" months in Hyde Park, as well as some sense of how the UCPD might be responding to those historical trends.

Month # 2011
violent crimes
# 2012
violent crimes
January 11 5
February 9 5
March 7 7
April 6 5
May 9 10
June 6 8
July 15 8
August 8 5
September 6 5
October 8 14
November 10 14
December 8 5

Up until October 2012, yearly violent crime totals were better in literally every single month (although tied in March). I am hesitant to read too much into totals that are so low, but the reduction in January and July crimes from 11 to 5 and 15 to 8 respectively seem like some positive changes. But then comes October and November, where all of the UCPD patrols and security guards on corners don't seem to do much to stop violent incidents. Indeed, I imagine those totals would have been even worse had those officers not been in the picture at all.

Perhaps the most interesting conclusion to draw from this is that with only 3 exceptions, attacks occurred in roughly equal proportion throughout the year. May, October, and November were the worst months, but not by much. This gets at the point that students need to be aware and vigilant at all times, not just when it is warm outside. 

As a martial artist, one of the most important questions I ask about these crimes is "How did they happen?" Were there multiple attackers or a single attacker? What weapons were involved? Were multiple attackers more likely to be armed than solo ones? What times of day did these attacks occur? Although the UCPD does not release official statistics on this, the "Description" of each incident often provides all of the details we might wish to know.

The tables below summarizes the most interesting findings from the 2011 and 2012 crime data. Numbers will not add up to the respective totals (103 and 91) because I am only highlighting those findings that are most relevant to martial artists and concerned citizens (the latter category should include every reader of this blog and, hopefully but not realistically, every UChicago community member). Also in some cases, UCPD descriptions could not be used to determine the numbers, in which case the entire data point was omitted.

# of attackers 2011 2012
One 59 52
Two 27 26
Three 12 8
Four 2 3
Five 1 2
Six or more 2 0

This data is alarming from a martial perspective. In both 2011 and 2012, 40% of total attacks (103 and 91 respectively) involved multiple attackers. As anyone with training and experience can tell you, a multiple attacker scenario is much more dangerous and difficult than one with only one aggressor. The fact that the percentages were consistent from year to year suggests that the 40/60 split between multiple/single attackers might just be a general truth of Hyde Park robbery, but further data analysis would be needed to confirm that.

The following table shows the method of operation/weapon used by solo attackers in 2011 and 2012. It will be followed by a table showing the same information in multiple attacker incidents.

Single Attacker M.O. 2011 2012
(All handguns)
12 4
(Pushing, shoving,
16 21
10 6
(Grabbing an object
and fleeing)
13 16
Knife or edged implement 1 1
(Includes bricks, spitting,
bottles, etc.)
7 2
Total Unarmed 39 43
Total Armed 13 5

In single attacker incidents, especially in 2012, you were much more likely to encounter an unarmed attacker. Although those tallies at the end exclude the "Other" category, the overwhelming number of incidents would still be classified as "Unarmed", even if all of the "Others" represented armed attacks. Unarmed attacks are an entirely different beast than armed ones, using an entirely different skillset. For example, although I often disparage pure groundfighting and wrestling skills in self-defense situations, they would be highly appropriate for dealing with single, unarmed attackers.

Now let's look at situations involving multiple attackers.

Multiple Attacker M.O. 2011 2012
(All handguns)
25 13
(Pushing, shoving,
8 18
6 2
(Grabbing an object
and fleeing)
0 0
Knife or edged implement 0 0
(Includes bricks, spitting,
bottles, etc.)
1 0
Total Unarmed 14 20
Total Armed 25 13

This is where it gets particularly dangerous for martial artists (and non-martial artists) who want to defend themselves when attacked. In 2012, 40% of multiple attacker incidents involved a weapon. In 2011, that number was much higher, at 64%. Once weapons get involved, especially with multiple opponents, a whole range of techniques and responses become instantly inoperable. You don't want to go to the ground. You can't overcommit to a disarm. If you are in a group of people, the safety of your friends becomes even more pressing. This has huge implications for training and practice, although those conclusions are probably best discussed in a post more dedicated to martial concerns.

The final piece of the crime equation I want to discuss is time. I am always shocked that police, criminologists, reporters, and other researchers always overlook the time of crime commission. The data is there, but no conclusions are ever drawn from it. At least with UChicago, it's time to change that.

The table below breaks down the day into time increments (midnight to 1:00 AM, 1:00 AM to 2:00 AM, etc.), recording the number of crimes that occurred during those time slots. To ensure that the dataset is large enough to warrant analysis, I do not discriminate between months when recording crimes. Although it is possible that July crimes are more likely to occur after 7'o clock than are February crimes, we just don't have enough data points to draw those conclusions. Finally, I acknowledge that there is something artificial about time brackets; there is no material difference between a crime that occurs at 8:58 PM and one that occurs at 9:01 PM. Despite this occasional oddity, we should still be able to see some interesting patterns emerge from the data.

Time slot 2011 2012
12:00 AM - 1:00 AM 6 5
1:00 AM - 2:00 AM 4 5
2:00 AM - 3:00 AM 4 4
3:00 AM - 4:00 AM 4 2
4:00 AM - 5:00 AM 0 2
5:00 AM - 6:00 AM 3 1
6:00 AM - 7:00 AM 0 0
7:00 AM - 8:00 AM 0 1
8:00 AM - 9:00 AM 1 1
9:00 AM - 10:00 AM 0 0
10:00 AM - 11:00 AM 1 5
11:00 AM - 12:00 PM 4 3
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM 3 6
1:00 PM - 2:00 PM 5 5
2:00 PM - 3:00 PM 4 3
3:00 PM - 4:00 PM 4 7
4:00 PM - 5:00 PM 2 5
5:00 PM - 6:00 PM 4 5
6:00 PM - 7:00 PM 8 7
7:00 PM - 8:00 PM 8 5
8:00 PM - 9:00 PM 13 6
9:00 PM - 10:00 PM 7 8
10:00 PM - 11:00 PM 11 3
11:00 PM - 12:00 AM 7 2
(Times reflect when the incident OCCURRED, not when it was reported)

2011 had a pretty clear pattern, highlighted with the red lettering. Roughly 50% of all crime occurred between the hours of 6:00 PM and midnight, with the worst hours being 6:00 - 9:00 PM. The 2012 distribution, however, was a lot wider. Crime seems pretty consistent from basically noon until 10:00 PM, a huge range that doesn't really say much except that "crime happens". The most interesting observation is around the 10:00 PM - 12:00 AM time slots in 2012. Owing to some combination of factors, likely including heightened police presence, 2012 saw a huge drop in crime during those hours. The same can be said of the earlier time slots, notably 8:00 PM - 9:00 PM.

Most criminologists are extremely hesitant to accredit a drop in crime to increased policing. After all, there are just so many factors at work, and the police often have a lot less impact than we might believe.

But in the case of 2012 UChicago crime, my suspicion is that UCPD and University security policies were integral in the crime drop. As far as I can tell, those were the only big differences between this year and last year in Hyde Park and the South Side. Indeed, given the spike in citywide crime this year, we would expect Hyde Park to maybe follow suit. Its apparent resistance to the crime increase suggests that other factors are at work in shielding this neighborhood.

One thing that is definitely not responsible for the drop in crime? Uchis (pronounced "You-Shes", if you recall). UChicago students remain some of the most oblivious and unaware people in the entire state, rivaling even fanny pack toting tourists on the Magnificent Mile. Between iPhones and iPads and all their variations, UChicago must have more handheld technology that most Apple warehouses. Owing to the practice of stooping one's head to bury themselves in their device, I am more accustomed to seeing the top of people's heads than their faces, so much so that I recognize some students purely by the part in their hair.

For their part, the UCPD and private security contractors on campus do everything they can to safeguard the community and its comically oblivious members. As patrols increase and the University continues to put resources into security, I imagine we will see a continuance of the 2011-2012 crime trend.

There is a good chance that crime will continue to fall in Hyde Park, which is good for both the University and all of its students and alumni who a) want to visit and b) want to see their expensive degrees increase in value and prestige. It is also good for the neighborhood, one that has remained resilient to surrounding violence and criminal activity, and one that looks to continue its resilience into the coming years.

On this end, I will continue to provide commentary and reports on local crime. If even one UChicago student remembers to put down their phone and identify a potential robbery before s/he strikes, my writings will have been a success.

For those who are lacking in New Years Resolutions, or those who have already lapsed, you can add "vigilance", "awareness", and "street sensibility" to your list of positive behaviors for 2013. In doing so, you will not only help yourself, but you will help UChicago continue its positive crime trends into this next year and beyond.


  1. I went at the question of violent crime in our community a slightly different way and came to a different conclusion (http://www.dailysophist.com/stories/195-violent-crime-in-hyde-park)

    I compared data from UChicago's "Crime Trends" site on incidents in Hyde Park/South Kenwood in 2011 with CLEARMAP data on incidents in that same area in 2012.

    My dates were skewed slightly (Jan 6 - Jan 6 rather than Dec 31 - Jan 1), and its possible the data don't correspond exactly, but the number of incidents reported in both years (214 in 2011 vs. 240 in 2012) seems close enough to be quite plausible.

    Assuming this is right, crime in Hyde Park-South Kenwood likely INCREASED in 2012.

    You speak of "UChicago-area crime" rather than crime in Hyde Park-South Kenwood. Seems possible that crime in the immediate vicinity of UChicago declined while crime in the wider neighborhood increased slightly.

    Either way, I'll be watching UChicago's "Crime Trends" site for more complete figures.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I wrote a lengthier response to this on your own article. In light of your observations, I checked out some other data sources to see if Hyde Park really did have a drop in violent crime. My results are here:


    Thanks again for your post and observations!