Wednesday, May 15, 2013

May safety briefing - Hyde Park crime map and trends

Tom Skilling doesn't lie; spring is finally here in Chicago and summer is on its way! For most UChicago students, May is that month where we remember what the sun looks like. It is a month of severe senioritis, where students ditch as many classes as allowed by their professor's attendance policy (and then one more just for good measure). For some students, it is the long awaited month of Scavenger Hunt. For other students, it is that strange month where a bunch of paramilitary organizations run around campus dressed as David Bowie and pushing giant wooden Banthas. And of course, it is also a month where we really start to see an uptick in Chicago crime. The South and West Sides start to see more shootings. The Loop sees more youth mob attacks and iPhone snatchings. And Hyde Park sees more robberies and random attacks. The past six Aprils have seen a total of 135 violent incidents. The past 6 Mays, however, have seen 204. This article will give you some concrete information that can help you stay safe as you enjoy your last full month in Hyde Park before the summer. No matter whether you are playing Ultimate Frisbee in Washington Park or building a walk-through model of a human organ for Scav, you can find some tips here to help you stay safe.

(Note: As with previous articles of this nature, I am only looking at violent crime that occurred in a public space, such as the street, sidewalk, a park, etc. I am also excluding all crimes classified as "Domestic" by the Chicago Police Department; these incidents are less likely to affect the average bystander than more targeted attacks)

Although certain parts of the UChicago area see more May crime than others, the crime distribution actually evens out much more than we saw in April. We also start to see a lot more crime, both in areas that are traditionally considered "unsafe" and areas that are supposed to be well-patrolled.
  • 30% of all April violent crimes (roughly 60 incidents) happen in the North Hyde Park area bounded by 51st and 55th, and Woodlawn and Lake Park. This is an area where lots of students live and parties occur, so be safe when walking around here. Those crimes are split about 50/50 between robbery and battery.
  • Do not venture south of 60th Street while on Cottage Grove; 23 incidents in the last 6 years happened just between 60th and 62nd Streets on Cottage. That's 11% of total May crime occurring in just two blocks that account for less than 1% of the total area.
Although the UChicago campus itself remained fairly safe during May, in the 6 year period, there were 8 robberies that occurred either on or within two blocks of the main quads. Some of these attacks occurred in 2007 and 2008, before UChicago beefed up its Allied-Barton Security presence around the main academic core. But others happened as recently as 2012, underscoring the need for awareness and safety no matter where you are in the area.

The Google map below shows the May distribution of Hyde Park violent crime. You can click on any individual point to get some more detailed information about the incident, including its date, time, and type of attack. The map points are colored based off of the type of crime:
  • Brown Dot: Assault
  • Yellow Dot: Battery
  • Red Dot: Robbery
  • Red Flag: Homicide
  • Yellow Flag: Sexual Assault

In discussing the April map from my last safety briefing, I sad not to worry about all the scary dots. To some extent, that is still true of May, but we really need to be mindful of the increase, and also the spread across Hyde Park. We must still remember that the Woodlawn and Englewood maps would be almost unreadable if we just plotted Simple Battery (punching, slapping, pushing, etc.) alone, let alone robbery and assault.

For the most part, Hyde Park crimes are similar to those committed across the rest of the city, at least compared to neighborhoods with similar income levels. That means lots of crimes of opportunity, but very few shootings and gang-related incidents.
  • Battery was the most common crime in Hyde Park, accounting for 46% of all crimes (94). This was followed by robbery (36%, 73) and assault (17%, 35).
  • There was only 1 homicide and 1 reported incident of Criminal Sexual Assault in Hyde Park over this time period. 
  • The majority of Hyde Park violent crime in May, 68%, is commited by unarmed perpetrators. Looking just at May crime, only 21% of incidents involved a gun, with 10% occurring with some other dangerous weapon.
  • The vast majority of batteries (80%) involved unarmed perpetrators.
  • Robberies were almost split evenly between unarmed, strongarm incidents (53%) and armed attacks involving guns (34%) or knives and other dangerous weapons (12%).
From a martial perspective, notice that robberies have a pretty scary split between unarmed and armed attacks. Although you are more likely to get attacked by a strongarm robber, guns and knives are still quite common. So keep that in mind when training; don't focus too heavily on only one angle of attack.

The table below gives a bigger picture of all the May violent crime that occurred in Hyde Park. Remember that this just reflects reported incidents and not those attacks which are excluded from the CPD database.

May violent crimes in Hyde Park: 2007 - 2012
Type Description # of incidents
All Assault

Simple Assault

Aggravanted Assault - Gun

Aggravated Assault - Knife/Other
All Battery

Simple Battery

Aggravated Battery - Gun

Aggravated Battery - Knife/Other
All Robbery

Strongarm Robbery

Armed Robbery - Gun

Armed Robbery - Knife/Other
Criminal Sexual


It is impossible to know which of these crimes are more likely to affect students and which are more likely to affect residents and members of the greater community. As a good general rule, however, anyone can be the victim of any crime (Except for Homicide; it is extremely unlikely that a UChicago student would be killed, although it tragically did happen in late 2007).

One of the common urban safety myths is that nighttime is scarier than daytime. Although there is some truth to that, it ignores the highest crime window of the day: The late afternoon. Hyde Park violent crime in May really drives this point home.
  • From 2007 through 2012, the most dangerous time of day was between 4:00 and 7:00 PM, with 23% of area violent crime happening in these three hours. This should be an alarming observation for students; late afternoon is a high traffic time of the day where most pedestrians are off-guard and just happy to be done with their day of work and classes. Stay alert!
  • Crime remains high from 7:00 PM through 2:00 AM. I know that is a huge window of time, and it is unreasonable to remain vigilant during the entire 7 hour period. Even so, when you head out to a party or for a late night snack, do not forget your basic awareness skills.
  • Early morning crime is exceptionally rare in Hyde Park during the month of May. In the 6 hours from 2:00 AM through 8:00 AM, there were only 15 incidents in all 6 years.
Again, we must acknowledge that crime trends often fluctuate wildly throughout the years, so there is some risk in comparing yearly crime data. But the time trends of the Mays are very similar to the overall time trends of year-round Hyde Park data, so I am comfortable giving them.

The graph below gives a time frequency distribution for May violent crime in Hyde Park. The spikes at 4:00 and 6:00 PM are quite clear, as is the relative safety of the early morning. One thing you will notice about May crime is that, unlike in April, incidents occur all afternoon and evening, not just around 4-5 PM.
As with April crime data, this is not to suggest that you need to stay inside after 4:00 PM, even if that is technically the safest course of action. It is just to emphasize the need for passive and casual awareness skills, skills that everyone should have regardless of what month it is.

In April, crime was relatively stable throughout the week. That's not true in May. Contrary to popular wisdom, the majority of crimes actually occur during the week, with Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday seeing the peak in violent incidents. Friday, although a very bloody day across the entire city, is relatively tame in Hyde Park. It should be noted that within individual crime categories, i.e. robbery/battery/assault, only some incidents fluctuate throughout the week. Robbery hovers around 10 incidents for each day over the 6 year period. Battery ranges between a high of 17 on Mondays to a low of 8 on Fridays. And again, it is hard to make statistically significant conclusions from such a small dataset, but the information is still worth knowing.

The graph below breaks down the three different violent crime types (assault, battery, robbery) by day, aggregating data from the past 6 Mays.

This is one of those great examples of crime data not following any discernable patterns or trends. Hyde Park violence just happens during all days of the week with no clear rhyme or reason. Sure, with additional analytical tools we could probably pick out more patterns over a larger dataset. But from a pure self-defense perspective, everyone should just be looking at this data and realizing that "crime just happens".

The reality of interpersonal crime and violence is a lot messier than the data will suggest. Looking back to the crime versus time plot above, we can see that only 1 Hyde Park resident experienced any sort of violence at 7:00 AM in the last 6 years. But if you yourself were that 1 victim, the percentages and probabilities wouldn't mean a thing.

Numbers like those given in this article are just a starting point for common sense self-defense techniques. You always want to be aware and alert, whether it you are taking an evening stroll through West Englewood or a morning jog through Lincoln Park. But in some cases, the data might inform you to be extra wary. For instance, if you were walking down 62nd and Kimbark at 4:30 PM this coming Friday, you might want to exercise more caution than if you were doing the same on 57th and Woodlawn.

As always, be safe, remain alert, and stay safe out there.

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