Monday, October 14, 2013

Weekend robbery near Logan Arts Center

In an effort to prompt more self-defense focused talk, I am going to make some small changes to the UChicago Crime Report posts that I tend to put up following an incident. Instead of just reporting on the crime, I will try and identify one self-defense theme. The crime itself will just be an entry point for that theme.

The theme of today's UChicago Crime Report: "The safe area paradox". In unsafe locations, you are often more aware that you could be attacked or robbed. Criminals understand this and try to strike in LESS risky locations, when targets are less aware and lured into a false sense of safety.

Incident Location Date/Time
Robbery 6000 S. Ingleside (Public Way) 10/11/13 5:00 PM 10/11/13 5:00 PM Male snatched cell phone from the hand of victim walking on the sidewalk and fled with companion / Companion detained by UCPD / Suspect taken into custody by UCPD and CPD officers on 10/12/13 C01061

At first glance, it's a pretty unremarkable crime with a pretty unremarkable narrative. Victim is walking down street with phone. Perpetrator snatches phone and runs. Police apprehend perpetrator(s). Lots of snatch and grabs end this way, even if the initial victim is not the one to help apprehend their thief. The most obvious self-defense tip we could take from this incident is probably about phone use. But like the incident itself, that's hardly a remarkable piece of advice.

What is fairly noteworthy is the time of the incident. As anyone who walks around Logan in the late afternoon will notice, 5:00 PM is a fairly high-traffic time. It's not bustling like the quads at 11:50 AM on a Tuesday, but there are always people and cars traveling around at that hour. It's definitely not deserted like a sidestreet after sunset; there's even a blue light phone right on the Ingleside corner, and lots of cars going down 60th street. Even if the incident occurred down Ingleside itself, that's still less than a hundred or so feet from the multi-million dollar Logan Arts Center, not to mention Midway Studios. Indeed, the UCPD headquarters is itself a block away from there!

The "public way" on 6000 S. Ingleside does not fit our picture of an unsafe location. Even a starstruck first-year who has never lived in a city before would be cautious walking down a dark street at night (perhaps especially such a student). We all hold our bags tight on the Red Line. We often have our keys out as we walk up to our door at night. For all the UChicago students I have seen at the 55 bus stop off the Garfield Green Line, I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen them on a phone. When it comes to identifying these kinds of unsafe locations, most of us are pretty good at noticing the obvious ones (even if the risk calculation is loaded with hidden assumptions).

Unfortunately, many criminals know how the average victim is going to make such risk assessments. They can predict that we will be more cautious down deserted residential streets in the dead of night and more cautious at a South Side bus stop. In turn, they can also predict that we will be less cautious when just leaving a business on 53rd street and turning towards home, or when we are shopping downtown with our friends. It's not true of everyone, but it's true of enough pedestrians to be an operable rule. And that's the paradox: In many "safe" areas, we are actually less safe than when we are in supposedly "unsafe" ones because we let our guards down. For many robbers, the area around 6000 S. Ingelside would be an ideal robbery location precisely because it is "safe" enough that most potential targets will be unaware and unprepared.

For the average student of self-defense, or average reader generally, the key is to maintain a casual baseline of awareness at all times, and then only heighten that awareness in uniquely risky situations. If you are in a safe area, you will still have that baseline vigilance. If you are in an unsafe one, you just heighten it. That perpetual awareness will often be enough to deter or identify threats before they strike because anyone attempting to commit a crime in a safe area needs to find only the easiest targets.

For a robber, there is a tradeoff in selecting a crime scene in a seemingly safer area where you will be less aware. There are more witnesses, more potential cops and cameras, and a generally less favorable environment. That's worth it if you can quickly snatch a phone and flee unimpeded, but it means criminals need to be more selective in their targets. On a dark street with no bystanders, you can reasonably stick up a group of 2-3 people with a gun and make off with their belongings before anyone notices. You an also wrestle for an iPhone if no one is around. But try that on Michigan Avenue and the National Guard will be there in 5 minutes. We know that robbers won't avoid safer areas, but it turns out that they will avoid the tougher targets in those safe areas.

By maintaining your casual level of awareness, you will appear to be such a tougher target. Make eye contact. Give a friendly nod and a Chicago-style "How's it going?" Don't be buried in your newest Apple device. Don't be so engaged with your friends that you can't observe other pedestrians. If criminals are eying you, there is a good chance they will realize that you might be more trouble than you are worth and just move on to another target. Of course, don't confuse "tougher target" with "brawling asshole". If you carry yourself like you are built to brawl and ready to rumble at any time, chances are good that you will have plenty of brawls and rumbles over your life. But that's not good self-defense from either a philosophical or technical perspective. Similarly, don't conflate awareness with paranoia. Awareness is the casual observation of external details and casual interaction with those details. Paranoia, however, is the obsessive focus on external details and the over/mis interpretation of those details as signs of danger.

Until next time, be sure to keep aware at all times in all locations, especially in those that might otherwise seem safe.

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