Monday, March 4, 2013

UChicago Crime Report: 3 questionable crime classifications

Did you know that, in the past two weeks, the UCPD responded to a robbery, a robbery in progress, and a bank robbery? All occurring between 49th and 60th Street in their patrol area? I certainly did not. Indeed, just by looking at the classifications for the most recent UCPD Incident Logs, there is no one who would know about these crimes. The Tribune figured the bank robbery out, but definitely not from our University's logs. The table below gives the full incident report for the above three events. Pay special attention to the uniquely descriptive, evocative, accurate, and detailed classifications that all three were given:

3 Highly Questionable UCPD Incident Reports
Incident Location Date/Time
Information / 
Assist Other Agency
60th between Metra tracks and Stony Island 2/19/13 7:06 PM2/19/13
7:00 PM
UCPD officers, assisting Chicago Police, arrested a male subject who had taken property from one victim and attempted to take property from a second person / No injuries C00190
Assist Other Agency 1420 E. 53rd Street 3/1/13
9:34 AM
9:34 AM
UCPD officers responding to a call of a bank robbery took suspect into custody / Proceeds recovered /Turned over to CPD C00218
Information 4900 S. Dorchester 3/3/13 7:04 PM 3/3/13 5:10 PM Victim reported three unknown males forcibly took property from him as he walked on the sidewalk off campus / CPD Investigation C00229

If the UCPD exported their reporting practices to the rest of Chicago, the South Side would have the most incidences of "Illegal Discharge of a Firearm" in the country, and the evening Red Line would be the number one place for "Lost Property".

Following my blog post on UCPD reporting behavior, I have been paying special attention to recent UCPD Incident Logs for either violent crimes, a lack of violent crimes, or suspicious incident reclassifications. I have already talked about the questionable "Theft From Person" description in previous posts, a category of illegal activity that sounds very much like "Robbery" to me. But the UCPD Incident Reports of 2013 have had neither violent crimes nor even "Theft From Persons". Instead, it looks like the UCPD has started using an even more overtly suspicious classification for some of its crimes.

Even in light of some recent UCPD fiascos on campus, I am generally a supporter of the Department. It has a tough and oftentimes thankless job, especially given that its primary task is to navigate the delicate terrain between protection and profiling in the community. As a social worker and martial artist, I appreciate the difficulties of making decisions that are, on the one hand, street smart, but on the other hand, also morally and socially just.

But that said, the UCPD's reclassification of three area robberies is disappointing and puzzling. At best, it is stat padding. Hyde Park crime is low, and although that is owing to a lot of factors unrelated to UCPD patrolling, the Department probably deserves some credit. Police agencies across the country juke their stats, and in the grand scheme of things, the UCPD has been quite transparent in the past.

At worst, however, the reclassifications are outright irresponsible. Students and community members need to know that robberies are occurring around the 60th Street Metra Tracks. That same audiences also needs to know that a group of three young men robbed someone near 49th and Dorchester. From a self-defense perspective, the most important tool at anyone's disposal is information. We need to know where crimes happen, when crimes happen, and who is committing the crimes. This returns to that delicate terrain between protection and profiling, but it is always better to have too much information rather than too little.

In the spirit of open inquiry, I am willing to offer a number of less-sinister explanations for these classifications. Indeed, whenever we stumble across questionable organizational behavior, it is always good to think of some alternate theories besides the deliberately malfeasant; a lot of agencies, especially civil/public service ones, are too disorganized to even keep ink in their printers, let alone engineer a cunning statistical ruse.
  1. NEW UCPD DATA SYSTEMI discussed this in that last post on UCPD reporting, but it bears re-mentioning here. Whenever you have a new data system, you are going to have problems. This is true of large and wealthy institutions like Fortune 500 businesses and Universities (if anyone has endured a new course registration software process at their college, you know the kind of frustrations I am talking about). It is especially true of civil and human service agencies with large internal bureaucracies and antiquated systems. The UCPD has new data software, new officers, and a new data manager. This is going to cause some reporting errors for a while (although I am still suspicious about how those errors are all regarding VIOLENT crime, not just property or traffic incidents). We shall have to see if these problems are ironed out over the coming months.
    One commonality in all three incidents was the presence of the Chicago Police Department (CPD). It is possible that its involvement somehow changes the technical and legal procedures of reporting crimes. Many of the robberies and attacks that were reported in previous years appeared to have exclusive UCPD involvement, with minimal or no mention made of the CPD. Given that the CPD represents City of Chicago's law enforcement agency, not just the local University police, it might take over jurisdiction when brought into an investigation. This might even be a recent development of the past few months, a part of the latest and greatest CPD Policing Strategy (10th Edition). Whatever the specific mechanism, the CPD involvement could somehow interact with UCPD reporting to get these crimes reclassified
    It's possible that none of the crimes in question were reported to the UCPD, in which case the Department is actually going above and beyond its call of duty in giving us their information in an Incident Report. If all the crimes were phoned to the CPD, in previous years, we would never see them again in the UCPD logs. But maybe the UCPD learned of these crimes (hence, "Information") and decided to publish them in the logs after the fact. This seems less likely in the case of the Metra robbery, where it appears that the UCPD actually physically arrested the alleged perpetrator as he was preparing to rob another victim. But it is still a plausible theory. 
Any of these theories could be individually or collectively responsible for the suspicious reclassifications of these three crimes (and probably others I have not thought of).

Overall, we should be wary of future UCPD Incident Reports and their supposed accuracy. I for one will be keeping a close eye on upcoming reports, looking for any other strange patterns and trends. Remember that the CPD CLEARPATH data remains a much more comprehensive source of crime information, even if it isn't tabulated until 7 days after its occurrence. As the year progresses and the UCPD falls under harsher scrutiny for its practices, many of which are unrelated to reporting, we will need to be mindful of how these components all relate together and create an increasingly difficult institutional environment. This may lead to further reporting errors, or perhaps a correction of past mistakes. Either way, we must all be watching and waiting to see.

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