Thursday, July 25, 2013

SECURITY ALERT: Attempted carjacking at 58th and Cottage

The UCPD just sent out this security alert in the last 30 minutes. Although the incident itself took place hours ago, it is important that people be aware of what happened and how to handle such a situation if it arose. The incident occurred at roughly this location on 58th and Cottage.
At approximately 1:30 p.m., Thursday, July 25 – An unknown male approached a University staff member sitting in his car parked on the east side of South Cottage Grove Avenue near 58th Street. The suspect displayed a handgun and demanded the victim’s car. The victim struggled with the suspect who then fled southbound on a bicycle toward the Midway Plaisance. The victim sustained a slight laceration to his hand, but declined medical attention. University of Chicago owned video surveillance captured the incident and is being utilized in the investigation. 
Be alert and aware of your surroundings at all times. Don’t resist an armed robbery unless absolutely necessary. 
All security alerts from the UCPD contain a paragraph of safety tips after the incident narrative itself. In most cases, I don't post that paragraph because it isn't particularly unique, interesting, or even helpful. But in this case, the UCPD added the sentence about not resisting armed robbers, an addition that I have not noticed before and merits some discussion.

Let's look at the incident itself. 1:30 PM is hardly the most dangerous time of the day, and the driver of this vehicle is certainly not at fault for sitting in his car eating lunch/talking on his phone/taking a break at this hour. Some incidents can be blamed, in small part, on a lack of awareness or general bad self-defense. That isn't to fault the victim, but it is to emphasize that we all can take steps to avoiding victimization when it comes to this sort of violent crime. In this case, however, the driver did nothing wrong by sitting there and minding his own business. Moreover, the car was parked within 100 feet of the hospitals and, apparently, within viewing distance of the UCPD blue light camera. That the attack happened at all says much more about the brazen robber than about the staff member himself.

When the attacker makes his demands of the driver, he doesn't do so in the way we might expect. He doesn't "brandish", "point", or "wave" his handgun at the driver. Rather, he just "displayed" it. To me, this suggests that the assailant had the weapon in his waistband or otherwise concealed/holstered on his person. If he had actually aimed the firearm at his victim, the incident would likely have ended in a very different way, with either a horrible tragedy or the outright relinquishment of the keys. But going just off the admittedly vague details of the report, the driver then emerged from the vehicle and struggled with the attacker. No shot was fired and the would-be robber fled the scene.

As a rule, it's a bad idea to confront and fight armed attackers. In fact, it's a downright dangerous and potentially stupid idea, especially if you are in the company of others during the attack, particularly those with no martial training. I for one am happy that the victim fought back and stood up to his attacker, but as a teacher, I have to also decry the move as a risky one. That said, if you are ever going to try and stop an armed attacker, you want to do it when the weapon is not already deployed. In self-defense, we call this "jamming" the draw (amongst other names), the objective of which is to prevent your attacker from deploying his weapon. It is a technically simple process that is extremely difficult to replicate under stress, especially once attempted on a noncompliant opponent. You will try this in training and get shot many times. You will try this in real life and get shot once. The victim in this incident may have had training or may have gotten lucky. Either way, no one should try and repeat his success. I find most of the UCPD safety advice to be vague and/or obvious, but in this case, there isn't much more that needs to be said: Don't fight armed attackers. Even if the attacker looks like he left an opening by keeping his weapon holstered, don't go for the disarm unless you are in imminent and inescapable fear of death or great bodily harm.

If someone wants to carjack your vehicle, just let them. There might be exceptions to this (e.g. if your child is inside, if you just withdrew your life's savings, etc.), but for the most part, it's not worth the risk. This isn't me saying in my best paternal impression "It's not worth losing your life over your car", although that is also probably true. Rather, it turns out that a car is just a really stupid thing to steal. All you have to do is run over to the nearest guy with a phone, or just use your own if you the guy didn't take it, and call police with the plate, model, color, and travel direction of the vehicle. Your car is more or less a giant tracking device that your attacker has chosen to ride around in. The CPD, for all of its failings, tends to treat aggravated vehicular hijacking as a serious incident, especially when it occurs in Hyde Park. Maybe you can disarm the robber and maybe you can't. But a quick 911 call with all that detailed information, along with a description of the attacker, is a much more effective tool than any you can use in a physical fight.

Until the next, stay safe and vigilant out there.

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