Wednesday, April 17, 2013

CRIME ALERT: Strongarm robbery at Ingelside and 57th - Concrete safety tips

Second security alert of the week, and the weather is only going to get warmer.
At approximately 2:05 a.m., Wednesday, April 17 – a University student walking west on 57th Street between Ellis and Drexel was approached from the rear by an unknown male. The suspect pulled her hair and attempted to take her back pack. A UChicago bus approached, causing the suspect to release the victim and run to a waiting white vehicle being driven by a female. The victim declined medical attention and her belongings were recovered.
And yet again, no description of the attackers! C'mon, UCPD. I understand that the victim was attacked from behind and likely could not see her assailant, or at least not see him well enough to provide an accurate description. But I also know that the UCPD always omits attacker descriptions. In fact, the female student was able to identify that the getaway car was driven by a woman! If she was able to get that sort of detail, she was almost assuredly able to get other details about the attacker, his clothes, his build, hair, perhaps distinguishing features, etc.

What about skin color? It's probably a safe bet to assume that the attackers were both black. Statistically, that is a good guess; CPD data estimates that about 86% of all Chicago robberies are committed by black males, and it's much higher on the South Side. Anecdotal evidence and personal experience from around Hyde Park might confirm that. But as an institution, UChicago and the UCPD have a responsibility to provide transparency around these cases. It is far better to report that the attackers were African-American than it is to say nothing and let the campus rumor mill do its job. "Of course they were black," a friend of mine once said in regards to robbers a few months ago. That is the sort of discrimination that is encouraged through vague crime reports. The UCPD should be providing concrete information about the robbers to quash speculation. Maybe to some extent the truth would encourage profiling and stereotyping. But that profiling is already happening anyway, and in an environment of deliberate institutional secrecy. The UCPD should just be honest about the facts and let our students work through the implications as critical thinkers (although given the recent activity on the politically incorrect uchicago facebook page, which I have sadly read, maybe this is too tall an order for some students).

Every 10 or so seconds, you should be casually scanning your surroundings for suspicious figures or cues. This is a good tip no matter what time of day it is, but it becomes particularly important at 2:05 AM on a warmer spring night. Look over one shoulder, then the other, and try and identify people following you or cars approaching you too slowly. Repeat every 10 or so seconds. You will have to deliberately remind yourself to do this for a while, but with time it will become second-nature and you can just flip your scanning switch on and off, like your own personal anti-crime radar installation.

Beyond the obvious early-warning-idenification effects, scanning also indicates to potential attackers that you are aware. Although this might not be deterrence for all assailants, some will definitely ignore an alert victim in preference to an oblivious one. Even if they do not, your early detection of an impending attack will give you extra time to run, prepare to defend yourself, call the cops, etc.

One of the comments on the politically incorrect UChicago page was that crossing the street doesn't help you avoid a robbery. For those who don't know, "crossing the street" is a UChicago euphemism for switching sidewalks when you see suspicious individuals approaching. Some commentators disagreed: "Why would crossing the street help they also have legs". "yeah i don't think they would've said, aw man look that guy's all the way across the street now we can't rob him". 

These two students, although maybe well intentioned, are just wrong: Crossing the street is almost always the safest idea.

Let's assume that you cross the street and the suspicious guy(s) follow you. They do have legs, after all. Guess what? They have just admitted to you that they want to attack you. It is a glaring indication of imminent violence. Now you can run as fast as possible, pick up your phone and call the cops, start screaming for help, etc. If you had not crossed the street you would have had no window of escape. The attacker would have been right next to you when he struck. He would have held a weapon on you and said "shut up and give me your phone". In this case, he needs to make a sharp deviation from his path to catch up to you, which gives you a lot more time.

Robbers know all of this, either consciously or unconsciously. Criminals want to find the easiest target with the highest payoff. They don't want a fight, they don't want to kill anyone, and they certainly don't want to get caught. The last thing they want to do is chase a screaming student down the street. If you cross the street, prospective muggers are unlikely to follow. Why bother? They can just wait another 30 seconds for the next oblivious UChi to come along. Of course, you should still try and cross the street as casually as possible. If you make it too obvious, you might offend the two guys and provoke a conflict that was otherwise not going to happen. But if you can cross the street calmly and coolly, then you are probably going to avoid any danger.

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