Saturday, March 30, 2013

Chicago Crime: 1 dead, 11 wounded


In the past few weeks, Garry McCarthy and the CPD have launched a series of new strategies to reduce Chicago gun violence. This included assigning 200 officers to patrol targeted "hot spot" areas, directing officers to arrest and ticket for minor violations (i.e. "broken windows" policing), setting up drop-boxes to encourage anonymous tips, and now deploying freshly trained officers to foot patrols in high-crime beats. This has led some police officers to call the start of the week "new strategy Monday", and to be sure, Superintendent McCarthy has become somewhat infamous for unveiling a new strategy multiple times in a month.

But in McCarthy's defense, it looked like his strategies might be working. February saw the lowest number of homicides since the 1950s, with only 12 murders across the city (shootings were also quite low at 60, the lowest in decades). March promised to follow the February trend; with only 4 days left in the month, the writers at RedEye found that there were only 12 homicides for March, 2013, a remarkable improvement from the 54 of March, 2012.

And then came this Friday. 1 dead, 11 wounded, and a very inauspicious start to what promises to be a warm weekend. Gun violence happened across the city, both in targeted districts and in hot spot beats. It also occurred in traditionally low-crime neighbohoods like Logan Square. While it is too early to call a trend, I am certainly worried (although likely not as worried as Garry).

February and March have, so far, been remarkable in their enduring cold, snow, and rain. We had a blizzard in early March, and it hasn't risen above 30 in weeks. Friday saw temperatures hit the high 40s; most of my friends went for walks, and it looks like criminals did the same. This calls into question the effectiveness of McCarthy's February and March strategies. Did policing prevent crime? Or was it just the thermometer?

Weather is a recurring theme in Chicago crime. McCarthy correctly states that warm weather does not cause crime, but it's certainly correlated. As a possible mediating mechanism, warm weather means more people outside on the streets. This means more interpersonal contact and conflict in impoverished neighborhoods, which can lead to more violence. Indeed, March 2012 saw unseasonably warm weekends in March, which drove up our homicides to a whopping 54 in a month that often sees fewer than 40. So far, 2013 has seen colder weather in these last months (incidentally, January was warmer and tracked a lot more homicides than in past years). With the cold breaking for spring, the worry is that crime will continue to spike along with the mercury.

The rest of this weekend, not to mention the coming weeks of April, will give us some idea of how the summer will look. Perhaps McCarthy's strategies will kick in and keep violence down. Or perhaps the warm weather will continue to drive up crime in spite of policing efforts. We will check back in at the end of the weekend.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Chicago Crime: Stabbing at North/Clybourn CTA stop - Thoughts on Arguments


At 8:00 PM on Monday, March 26, a 33-year old man got into an argument with a 35-year old man on the North/Clybourn Red Line stop. As the conflict escalated, the 33-year old man drew a knife and cut his victim in the upper leg and across the chest. The 35-year old victim survived and was listed in good condition at the hospital. The 33-year old attacker fled the scene and was arrested shortly thereafter. You can read the full story here, although in typical Chicago media fashion, it has basically no other details beyond what I wrote above.

This attack raises two self-defense points. The first, and most obvious, is related to defending against a knife, although I actually think that this is by far the least important lesson of the incident. Once the weapon was in the picture, "self-defense" had already failed. The second point is more pressing: The need to avoid and deescalate arguments. Although I will give some words on the knife component of this incident, it is secondary to the verbal, deescalatory skills that might have prevented the attack from happening at all.

THE MARTIAL SIDE: WORST-CASE KNIFE SCENARIOS
I confess that it really isn't worth it worrying about stories like this. This incident represents no pattern of knife wielding Red Line marauders. Unlike my previous article on phone robberies, there is no knifing trend in Chicago. In fact, knife attacks generally only make up about 8% of homicides (CORRECTED: An earlier version of this article said that stabbings were 2% of homicides and was massively wrong on the percentage of total violent crimes).
And you thought that yuppies
never carried weapons.

So why even care about knives at all, whether in self-defense curricula (we do a good amount of knife work at the UChicago Self-Defense Club) or in the media? Knife attacks are scary. Although they don't happen often, when they do happen they promise a terrifying and damaging ordeal. This makes it important to think about and train with knives, even if just in anticipation of an improbable, worst-case situation.

Unfortunately, just by reading this blog alone, you are not going to gain any serious skills in physically defending against a knife. It takes a lot of training and repetition to succeed at this, and even then it isn't certain. When we train full/high-speed stress drills in class, I regularly get nicked or cut against a committed attacker with the element of surprise. In the words of a famous knight, at least it's just a flesh wound. A better/more experienced warrior might avoid the blade altogether, but I have seen even very skilled ones get slashed in practice. Of course, their simulated injuries are still a whole lot better than those sustained by less experienced students, who tend to suffer more pokes than a 2006 Facebook user.

If you are ever facing a knife without any formal training, your goals are simple and obvious: Escape, survive, and summon help. Your goals are never to disarm your attacker, punish him for attacking you, or subduing him for the greater good. Just run away!
The world's best self-defense expert
Even if you do have formal training, your objectives should still lean towards the simple and obvious. The skillset at your disposal might make some new martial tools available to you (strikes, disarms, joint locks, etc.), but those should all be in service of getting away.

If you find yourself against a knife, whether you have a 14th degree blackbelt in Ninjutsu or have never stepped foot in a gym before, here are some quick, concrete tips:
  1. Scream for help
    Actually scream! Yell, shout, and generally make a huge commotion. Don't let some constructed sense of masculinity or warriorhood get in the way of calling for assistance. The same goes for women; I know some female students who don't want to scream for help because they think it "is what a girl would do." Too bad more men don't do it. Screaming is a great tactic that summons reinforcements, clearly identifies who the victim is, and scares/distracts the attacker.
  2. Use objects as shields
    We once did a knife disarm drill while defenders wore their laptop bags, gym duffels, or backpacks. When the knifer struck, everyone used their hands and forearms like their styles had trained. No one thought to use the big, padded, hulking bags. Shields are awesome. Just watch 300 if you don't believe me. Use whatever you have on you to block the attack and even to cause damage. Don't worry about the contents of your bag; your new Chrome Book might be very shiny, but is probably not worth reconstructive abdominal surgery.
THE VERBAL SIDE: DEESCALATING ALTERCATIONS
Looking at the North and Clybourn incident, the first sign of danger was not the knife slicing toward the victim's chest. At that moment, violence was a foregone conclusion. The critical turning point of that incident was the argument itself.

Admittedly, I was not there, and the news reports give no indication as to the altercation's content. Maybe the two men knew each other. Maybe the "victim" was actually the guy who provoked the argument. Maybe the alleged aggressor was acting in perceived self-defense of an impending attack. We just don't know given our limited information. But what we do know is that we should never, ever find ourselves in a similar position.


Most people who read this blog know not to start arguments or verbal fights, let alone with strangers. That's one of those things we probably learned in a sandbox while quarreling over the octopus-shaped plastic shovel. It is always better to defuse the situation and quickly leave the scene. Now, for many social worker clients, this lesson is far less obvious. The population I work with (so-called "at risk" black teenagers in Chicago) definitely benefits from mentoring around conflict avoidance, deescalation, and resolution. My readership, however, represents a different demographic. The average UChicago undergraduate, graduate student, or professor is unlikely to pick a street argument on a CTA platform. They are even less likely to start a street-beef over an overly long stare. We are far more likely to have that argument picked against us by a stranger.

ARGUMENT SCRIPTS
"That was pretty good, but we need to be
even more awkward"
Once an argument starts, the average middle-class (or wealthier) Chicagoan tends to lose composure. It's a well-defined and recognizable script. We mumble apologies. We condescendingly dismiss. We become intensely interested in that black blob of gum on the sidewalk. If we are in a group of people, a conversation about Plato or Star Wars immediately dies and everyone stares at their feet in collective discomfort. As astute social scientists will observe, there is absolutely a racial and socioeconomic dimension to this exchange. Given the demographics, poverty, culture, and criminal factors of our city, many of these arguments (i.e. those with the uncomfortable white Chicagoan) will be across racial lines. This can add additional elements of tension. The following conversation is an almost verbatim transcript of an encounter I observed on the Red Line last week. This happened at around 5:45 PM between a group of four UChicago students and a middle-aged black man.

UChi 1: "You think you are screwed for final's week? I still haven't started my paper, and it was due 2 hours ago!"
UChis 2-4: (laughter)
Man: (turns around in his seat and faces group) "Hey guys, what's so funny here? What are we talking about?"
UChi 4: (suddenly becomes fascinated with the textile pattern on his seat)
UChi 3: (keeps smiling awkwardly in his best eel face)
UChi 2: (completely ignoring man) "Wow what is your topic anyway?"
UChi 1: (addressing man) "Uh...what's...I'm sorry?"
Man: "I asked you what we are talking about here. Didn't you hear me?"
UChi 4: (switches interest to a fleck of dust on his jacket sleeve)
UChi 3: (eel face)
UChi 2: (delivers the least subtle knee-nudge UChi 1 before diverting attention to his iPhone)
UChi 1: "Oh...nothing. We were...just nothing."
Man: "What's that? You don't want to talk to me or something?"

The scenario just became more painful from there, with more textile obsession, eel faces, iPhone browsing, increasingly uncomfortable responses from UChi 1, and increasing anger from the man. By sticking to the script, escalation was inevitable. It never came to a physical exchange, instead ending like the vast majority of public arguments: discomfort, embarrassment, and awkward stories. But it is never worth the risk, as the North and Clybourn incident suggests. Even in the case of the UChicago students, they were clearly shaken by the argument, despite its remaining verbal.

The other argument script is less common amongst the average UChicago student, but very common amongst young men (myself included, at one point). Martial artist and author Rory Miller calls it the "monkey dance", and it's a familiar ritual of masculine assertion. Here's an exaggerated but familiar exchange to illustrate the dance routine.  
 
"What am I going to do about it? Let you
borrow some of my gum, for starters."

Male 1: "What are you looking at punk?"  
Male 2: "You, asshole. What are you going to do about it?" 
Male 1: "What did you say to me!?" 
Male 2: "You heard me. I called you an asshole. What are you going to do about it?

Chest bumping comes next, followed by more blustering, more aggressive eye contact, and finally a push or a punch. In all my time at UChicago, I only saw this particular script play out three times (and one time I was to blame), but it is definitely a routine that many men will follow. Harvard professor Steven Pinker, with support of other researchers, suggests that it is an evolutionary mechanism of mate selection and territory demarcation. Whatever its origins, it is as alive today on the streets of Englewood and Wrigleyville as it was in the Pleistocene.

BREAKING THE SCRIPT
They key to deescalating most argument is to break the script. This is true of both the awkward exchange between an aggressor and a group of UChicago students out on the town, and in the case of two posturing teens. You break a script by doing something that the belligerent doesn't expect without making him feel threatened or insulted (of course, there are times where your safety is more important than the feeling of a stranger). Once you get off the script you can easily deescalate an argument and prevent the proverbial knife-pull from every happening.

In my experience, the best way to do this is to select a common denominator between you and the stranger and then use that as an entry point to address his question/demands. Sports teams, the weather, and family/friend issues are safe bets in this category. Use your common denominator as a means of both responding to the initial exchange and diverting the argument off of its script.

Whoops. Wrong Baltimore Ravens.
#uchicagoconfusion
Make sure you aren't picking a denominator that you can't honestly discuss. If you don't know anything about the Bears, don't tell the guy that you were out late with your buddies watching the game last night. Similarly, don't say things that are out of character or flat out unbelievable. If you are a UChicago student with your laptop bag and "If I wanted an A I would have gone to Harvard" t-shirt, don't tell the aggressor that you are tired from working a double shift at the plant. This will involve a bit of quick thinking, or good preparative work, but it often pays off in the end. 

Let's revisit the examples above and see how those parties could have handled it better.

UChi 1: "You think you are screwed for final's week? I still haven't started my paper, and it was due 2 hours ago!"
UChis 2-4: (laughter)
Man: (turns around in his seat and faces group) "Hey guys, what's so funny here? What are we talking about?"
UChi 1: "Man, I had this assignment that was due earlier today for a class, and I just didn't want to do it!"
Man: "What? Why didn't you just get it done?"
UChi 1: "So, I wanted to start last night, but we went out instead and saw the new Bruce Willis movie. You seen it yet?"

The rest of UChi 1's friends can still be up to their necks in discomfort as long as UChi 1 is taking point. If the man directly addressed one of the other group members ("Why is he ignoring me!?"), UChi 1 could just respond "Well, he actually did his assignment for class, so he's just really tired right now and is spacing out."

What about the two angry young men?

Male 1: "What are you looking at punk?" 
Male 2: "What's up? Oh, sorry about that bud. One of those long days of work, you know what I mean?"

The goal is to defuse the situation as early as possible by throwing off their expectations. You don't need to start a conversation about Cartesian existentialism with a stranger, but you do want to start a quick, friendly, and casual exchange. If you ever need to break off this exchange, just do it calmly: "Alright, this is my stop man. Catch you around." Indeed, your goal should always be to remove yourself from the belligerent's area as quickly as possible, lest he change his mind, get some friends, or rethink his own motivations.

To conclude, we return to the North and Clybourn incident itself. It is unclear how these techniques would have helped these parties because we lack information about the conflict's context. But if we were in that situation, these tools should be effective ones for avoiding both awkward stories and violent conclusions. Hopefully no one needs to use these suggestions, although if the worst-case scenario starts to arise, they will be useful for stopping the violence before it starts.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Chicago Crime: "Hey man, can I borrow your phone?"


(With my finals week over, it is time to return to a more regular posting routine. At the request of some readers, I am working on a "schedule" of sorts for when to expect certain posts on certain topics. More on that to come!)

"Phone borrowing" is one of the standard robbery/theft tactics I see around Chicago these days. I have seen it in action, I have seen people try it on me, I have heard of it around town, and my friends have experienced it firsthand. In this situation, an attacker approaches you and asks something along the lines of "Hey man, can I borrow your phone?" (This is a direct quote from a young man on the Red Line the other day). Maybe he saw your phone earlier. Maybe he did not. In either event, if you produce the phone or give it to him, he will grab it, run off, and potentially even strike you to deter pursuit. Of course, there is a chance (a good chance, even) that he might just use it to make a call before handing it back. But there are certain cues and mannerisms your attacker will effect, and that will clue you in to his intentions. In this article, I will go over the scenario itself and some verbal/physical tools you can deploy in this situation.

A SOCIAL WORK WARRIOR DISCLAIMER

Before proceeding, I am obligated to identify a problematic assumption that I have made here. You can never perfectly predict another person's intent. This is true even if they supposedly fit a standard "pattern" of behavior. We have a name for that in social work and criminal justice. It's called "profiling". It can be especially troubling if you take into account certain non-behavioral characteristics (i.e. race and age) at the expense of others.
"These aren't the iPhones you are looking for."
In this case, I am just assuming that your attacker is a young man with aggressive and suspicious cues: too much shifty eye contact, looking over his shoulder, lack of respect for personal space, an overly friendly demeanor, etc. I am not assuming his race. Indeed, in the past few months, I have seen this robbery trick tried by two white teens working as a group, a solitary Latino adult, and two black teens on separate occasions. If anything, this article serves as a guide to prevent purely racial profiling, helping you to identify behavioral, physical, and verbal cues that are independent of the more descriptive ones. Although you do not want to completely discount your experiences (for example, in Chicago, the majority of robberies are committed by young, black males), you also do not want those biases overwhelming your other sources of evidence.

THE SCENARIO
I was standing at the Red Line stop at Garfield wearing a dress shirt with my laptop bag slung over my shoulder. At around 10:45 AM, a few minutes before the train arrived, a young man approached me. He had just been talking with two friends on the other end of the platform. There were only a handful of other passengers at the stop. My only indication that he was suspicious was his constantly checking over his shoulders.

"Hey what's up man? Can I borrow your phone?" I took a casual step away from him and brought up my hands in a polite gesture of refusal: "Naw, sorry man." He took two steps in, cocked his head to the side, and raised one of his hands as if to accept the phone I had not offered. He looked over his shoulders again. "C'mon man, just gimme the phone."

I took another step back and raised both my hands up, giving a short and incredulous laugh. "Look buddy, you need to back up. I don't let people borrow my phone." He looked at me, looked over his shoulders again, and then backed up. "Man, fuck you." He turned around and walked off the platform.

There are three steps in phone borrowing incident. The first is an economic assumption, and it happens before your would-be attacker even opens his mouth. The other is a behavioral assessment, and it happens in the first few seconds of your exchange. And finally, there is the robbery itself, a step that you can hopefully avoid. .

STEP ONE: THE ECONOMIC ASSUMPTION
The first step in the process is an assumption: That you have a valuable handheld device. All those phones that are more advanced than my poor N64, such as iPhones and Galaxies, will sell for at least $100 at the criminal's local cell phone "store" (read: fence). Or the guy can just use it for games. Given the proliferation of such technology, the would-be robbers are making a decent bet that you actually have a phone worth stealing.
Neil Diamond would be very upset.
Your average robber probably doesn't stay informed of the latest Pew research studies (finding that roughly half of all Americans have such phones), but you don't need to be a WSJ subscriber to tell that. Just ride a train or a bus. That makes working professional and students, those who are most likely to have such phones, especially vulnerable. Laptop bags and nice clothes can all indicate phone ownership. Even if you regularly dress down and avoid showing clear symbols of wealth, you can still be targeted based on either the sheer prevalence of smart phones (it's a good bet that anyone has one), or because everyone is dressed up once in a while (even I have to sometimes forgo a white tee and jeans in favor of dress shirts ).

STEP TWO: THE "INTERVIEW"
So far, the potential assailant probably has not even talked to you yet. That leads directly to the second step in the impending attack: An assessment of your difficulty as a target. Rory Miller calls this the "interview" process, and it is an apt, albeit sinister, analogy. But unlike in most interviews, this is a job you do not want to get. Your attacker needs to quickly ascertain whether or not you are an easy victim, a goal accomplished in a few steps. Your objective is to show that you are a hard target.

This is also when you can identify the young man's intentions. If the guy genuinely wants to borrow your phone, he will ask respectfully and without entering your space. If he starts to make you feel uncomfortable, however, then you might have an impending crime on your hands.

  1. Asking "Hey man, can I borrow your phone?"
    "Wait, so you won't just hand me your phone?
    Are you sure you went to UChicago?"

    Don't let strangers borrow things. Seriously. For all of the times where it is not a bad idea, there are dozens of other instances where it ends with a problem. UChicago students, and other Chicagoans with positive outlooks, are famously oblivious when it comes to this request.
    In asking for your phone, the criminal wants to gauge your ability to handle uncomfortable situations. He is trying to disarm you. He will be overly familiar without being polite. If I personally wanted to borrow a phone, I might say "Hey, I'm really sorry to ask this, but can I borrow your phone? I forgot mine and need to call home. Or could you just do it for me?" That is a much less suspicious request. But there is something very presumptuous in just asking "Sup bud, can I see that phone for a sec?"
    • An easy target will be distracted and at ease. An easy target will not immediately identify the possible danger of this request, will avoid eye contact, and will overall remain unaware. He will not respond assertively, or he won't respond at all. This is someone who is either too reticent to respond to an attack or someone who is too inexperienced to know what is happening at all. 
    • A hard target will instantly go into a higher state of alertness, moving to create distance between himself and the potential criminal. Hard targets make eye contact and acknowledge the other guy's presence. They are focused on the potential attacker, but also mindful of others around them; the attacker might have friends, the terrain might be unsuitable for a fight (e.g. on the edge of a CTA platform), etc.
  2. Challenging your response
    This is probably the most important step in the process. A guy who genuinely wants to borrow a phone will not become aggressive or belligerent if refused. He might be insistent, but he will do so politely and apologetically: "Oh, see, and I'm sorry for asking again, but I just really need to call my wife or have someone call her for me. Would you mind please helping me out? I can just give you her number." And if he was refused a second time, a good-intentioned phone borrower wouldn't ask again.
    A robber won't take accept that first "no" as answer, and he will respond with a sense of aggrieved entitlement. "C'mon man, really? I know you have a phone." A nice guy would respect your discomfort. A bad guy will try and exploit it. He will try and fluster you into making a mistake, such as relinquishing your phone or turning your back. 
    • Easy targets get scared during this step. They back down, fumble around in their packets, deliberately avoid eye contact, and generally shut down. They become defensive in their actions, as if acknowledging that they are the ones who have done something wrong. If you lack the confidence and fortitude to withstand a verbal assault, then you indicate that you are also ill-prepared for a physical one. 
    • Hard targets remain stalwart, restating their initial refusal without overtly becoming aggressive or scared themselves. "Like I said, I don't have my phone." The difficult target will maintain eye contact, keeping his voice level and assertive. This indicates that you are steadfast and ready, two qualities that a would-be robber does not want to deal with in a victim.
  3. Entering your personal space
    Neither the personal space of the
    Vietnamese nor his staff was safe

    Don't let strangers enter your personal space. Common sense 101. "Personal space" can be generally defined as a circle centered around your body with an arm's length radius. If an assailant is inside that range, you just won't be fast enough to react to any aggressive action. Sure, you could still win the subsequent fight, but it's not fun to start with a punch to the face. Of course, if an aggressor is too far outside that range, you can't reach him to defend yourself (or disarm a weapon), so it's a careful balancing act that must be played.
    Again, this is another opportunity to distinguish ill-intent from a genuine request. If I wanted to borrow someone's phone, I would stand far back, maybe even be sitting down, and fully respect the discomfort that my inquiry might cause. When someone asks for your phone and then stands mere inches from your face (like Mr. LBJ above), he is sizing up your comfort in dealing with aggression. Victims will acquiesce. Hard targets will get ready.
    • Like anyone in that situation, easy targets become very uncomfortable with someone so close. But for reasons of propriety, fear, and ignorance, they do not try and move away. This shows that you are a target that won't fight back and/or lacks the street smarts to win an engagement. Alternately, easy targets are completely oblivious to the invasion of personal space, which makes the criminal's odds of a successful attack even higher.
    • Hard targets respond immediately to that intrusion. They sidestep methodically and quickly to create room (but not in a hurry or panic). They keep their hands up and ready, ostensibly in a conciliatory "Sorry buddy" posture, but also ready to attack or defend at a moment's notice. They move their feet into a ready stance. They take a deep breath. At worst, this indicates to your would-be robber that you are smarter than the average guy on the street. At best, it shows you are ready to fight without wanting to fight. 
You might notice that I am assuming that the proverbial victim in these above examples seems to have martial knowledge. That is to say, he could win the engagement and stop the robber if a fight broke out. But I admit that not everyone has the  training to do that. Thankfully, that is totally fine. You don't need to actually be a hard target. You just need to appear to be a difficult target in the eyes of your assailant. Think of it from his perspective. Why would he attack a difficult target, who may or may not know how to fight, when the robber could just wait a few minutes for an easier target to come along? Your goal is just to make him doubt his ability to seize your phone.

STEP THREE: THE ATTACK
Finally, there is the grab for the phone. If you got to this step, you either didn't
"C'mon guy, I really just
need to call my girlfriend!"
assert yourself enough, or your attacker was just too intent on robbing you in thefirst place. If you are lucky, he will snatch it and run. If you are unlucky, he will wrestle for it. If you are extremely unlucky, he will hit you before going for the phone. Your specific response in this step is going to be wholly dependent on your training and experience, and will run the range of "engage and subdue" to "scream for help". My goal in this article isn't to teach the fighting skills to win Step Three, but rather to give tips to stop the encounter at Step Two. I admit that there are certainly other variables that could influence the above progression. For now, however, the above explanations give a good elementary sense of how this robbery unfolds.

VERBAL DEFENSES
Let's go back to Step Two. Whether due to the insistence and belligerence of the guy's words, or his disregard for your personal space, you have strong reason to suspect an attack. What do you do now? You can't really launch a preemptive physical attack because it is inappropriate, immoral, and most importantly, illegal. That leaves verbal deescalation and deterrence measures, which are actually more effective than physical ones when wielded correctly.

Here are some sample exchanges that can guide you through the verbal phase of this encounter. Feel free to modify all of them to fit your own speech style; nothing is less compelling than trying to recite words that you wouldn't actually say yourself.

SCENARIO 1: The guy hasn't actually seen that you have a phone
Young man: "Sup? Can I borrow your phone?"
You: "Man, I left my phone at home today, sorry."
Young man: "What? You don't have a phone?"
You: "Yeah, forgot it at home today. Hate when I do that."
WORST CASE SCENARIO - Young man: "I don't believe you. Let me see your phone."
WORST CASE SCENARIO - You: "Sir, you need to step back. I don't have a phone and you need to get back."
  • The best way to get someone to reconsider the robbery is to just flat out deny having a phone in the first place. No phone means no profit. The trick is to make your performance convincing. Don't hesitate or delay if you plan on denying that you have a phone. If you have to think about it, the other guy might know you are spinning a story. Obviously, if you have any reason to suspect that this stranger knows you have a phone (e.g. he saw you using it 5 minutes ago), then do not risk the lie. That can just insult him and escalate the attack.
  • Your would-be robber will probably challenge you on your statement because everyone has a phone these days. First of all, if he does that, this vindicates your suspicions; people who genuinely want to borrow a phone will never be aggressive towards a refusal. Second of all, remember that this is a second step in the interviewing process. Remain resolute but courteous. I like to throw in the "hate when that happens" line to keep things casual. You could even add in a more in-depth story (but not too lengthy) to further deescalate your attacker. "Yeah, left my phone at the bar last night," or "Funny you ask because I just let my friend borrow my phone last night and he still hasn't returned it." This shows that you aren't afraid to talk with strangers, the sort of confidence that can translate well into resisting a robbery.
  • WORST CASE SCENARIO: If the belligerent keeps arguing and engaging, you need to loudly and authoritatively (hence, "Sir") tell him to back up. This has two effects. First, it shows that you are willing and ready to escalate if need be. Second, it draws a lot of witness attention to the situation, demonstrating that you are the victim. Once you have bystanders on your side, the guy is very likely to just stop and retreat. If he attacks at this point, he was probably going to anyway, and at least now you have a whole bus or train full of reinforcements on your side.
SCENARIO 2: The guy actually saw you using a phone earlier but you have since put it away.
Young man: "Hey man, can I borrow your phone?"
You: "Nope, sorry."
Young man: "C'mon, I need to call my friend. Why won't you let me?"
You: "I don't let people borrow my phone, sorry."
WORST CASE SCENARIO - Young man: "What? Fuck you, let me see your phone!"
WORST CASE SCENARIO - You: "Sir, you need to back away from me, I told you already that I am not giving you my phone!"
  • This situation is a lot more awkward because your attacker actually knows you have a phone. If you have any reason to suspect that the questioner knows about your phone, DO NOT DENY HAVING IT. Offering a blatant lie to a criminal is a great way to escalate, because you are, in effect, telling him that he is too stupid to see through your obvious fib. This leaves him to either admit that he is an idiot, or escalate in retaliation for your insult. 
  • Don't feel a need to explain yourself too much to this guy. The point is to implicitly assert that you are fully aware of what he is trying to do and suggest that you are ready to fight back if necessary. At each step, while reinforcing your intentions to keep your phone, you simultaneously leave the attacker with an "out" so he can peacefully back down. 
  • WORST CASE SCENARIO: The big difference between this comment and the previous worst case scenario is that you are restating your intention to keep your phone. Bystanders hear this, look over at the confrontation, and realize that you are not the aggressor. The attacker can either back down or admit his criminal intent to the entire audience of witnesses. Most iPhone thieves just want to get the phone and run, not start a brawl, so this attention is quite unwelcome.
SCENARIO 3: You are texting/using your phone when the guy approaches you
  • First of all, why are you using your phone in a location where would-be robbers are lurking? If you read this blog, you should know better. If you are in my self-defense class, you should definitely know better. 
  • Verbally, treat this exactly as you would Scenario 2, albeit with a few modifications to your actions. As soon as the conversation starts, you need to casually put your phone away and keep it in your pocket. Do not instantly whip your phone into your pocket; this just makes you look scared. Count out a 1 or 2 beat in your head and then pretend like you just finished whatever you were doing. Calmly put the phone into your pocket as you would if you had actually finished your text message.
  • If you are actually talking to someone on your phone and this guy is rude enough to interrupt or linger around waiting for you to finish, that is a sure sign that he is trying to steal from you. Again, treat this as you would Scenario 2, but hang up the phone and focus your attentions on the potential attacker.
PHYSICAL DEFENSES
No matter what verbal approach you take, you are going to incorporate some basic self-defense movements in your conversation. These are all ways to improve your position, create space, and generally appear competent and aware. They are not fighting techniques, persay. If you have to fight, these preliminary physical steps will give you a better chance. Even if you don't end up engaging, these movements will force your attacker to reconsider his target selection and maybe suggest that he find an easier victim.
  1. STAND FACE-TO-FACE AND MAKE EYE CONTACT
    Eye contact and face-to-face communication has a few effects on a would-be robber. For one, it shows that you are neither uncomfortable nor afraid when interacting with strangers. Criminals want to select targets that are easily intimidated and overwhelmed. Someone who establishes eye contact with a stranger is less likely to fall part under stressful situations. Second of all, from a very practical perspective, if you see your attacker, you can better anticipate his moves. A criminal's objective is to ambush and surprise his target. In the phone borrowing situation, the ambush comes when he converts an ostensibly friendly request into a theft or robbery. That's harder to do when you have him fully in view. Finally, eye contact is a sign of acknowledgment and respect. If you look down or away while talking to a stranger, you might insult his sense of ego or entitlement. That can just make him angrier. Obviously, don't lock his eyes in a Gorgon's death stare, but do provide some sort of eye contact.

  2. KEEP YOUR HANDS IN FRONT OF YOU IN A NEUTRAL STANCE
    Whenever I refuse a request from a total stranger, I always have my hands up in a congenial gesture of apology. It is also a decidedly un-congenial position of "ready-to-rumble", from which I can block, grab, strike, etc. You don't want to overdo the movement. Keep it casual and smooth. Don't jerk your hands up, and don't hold them too far out in front of you. Just lift them up nice and easy as you calmly deliver your lines.
    Your attacker won't see your hands and think "Crap, he's a martial artist. Better rethink this one". But he will realize that with your hands up, and not in your pockets/at your sides, you present a slightly more difficult target. This helps him reconsider his plans.

  3. LOOK OVER YOUR SHOULDERS
    Whenever you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, always do a quick scan of your surroundings. From a practical perspective, you need to be aware of the terrain, the bystanders, potential allies, additional enemies, and so on. If a train is coming in the next 10 seconds, you probably don't want to get in a fight on the edge of the platform. That will tell you to move to the center, or to get your back to a pillar. If two guys are creeping towards you as you talk to another, that might indicate a serious ambush in the works, and you will need to respond accordingly.
    From a more theatrical perspective, you want to show your attacker that you are the sort of person who is aware of his or her environment. Robbers will always preference an oblivious target to a  vigilant one.

  4. TAKE A CASUAL SIDESTEP BACK
    As a general rule, distance is your friend in any criminal situation. Action will always beat reaction in a physical confrontation, and if your attacker is too close to you, he can strike and grab before you can realistically react. If you can establish an arm-and-a-half's distance between you and the other guy, however, then you will be much better prepared for an engagement.
    To accomplish this, you need to take a casual step back as your conversation begins. Don't jerk away or back up too much; that can just insult the would-be robber and escalate the attack. Instead, step as if it is part of your standard conversational routine.
    If I am facing the street and a guy approaches down the sidewalk from my left, I will keep my right foot planted, turn my torso towards the approaching man, and take a circle step back with my left foot. This puts my feet in a balanced approximation of my fighting stance without indicating to anyone that I am ready to fight. I will not step into my target; that is too close. I will not face my target with squared feet; I lack balance. I will definitely not just turn my head to the target without turning my body; that closes off my entire right side of my body from the attacker AND I lack balance.
    Of course, Pippin's maxim still holds a grain of truth: "The closer you are from danger, the farther you are from harm." If I am too far away, I can't effectively jam a weapon draw or preemptively strike if I sense that things are absolutely turning violent. If you have martial skill, you need to find the optimal distance point where you can react to his moves but still act yourself. If you are not trained, however, then the more distance you establish the better off you will be.
These tips should help guide you through these situations if ever they occur to you. Remember that in all interactions with strangers, the primary concern is your safety. There is a time and place for both propriety and political correctness. That time is not when you feel threatened. Make sure you assess all the variables of any situation, not just those that you might give undue weight to (such as race). But if the phone borrowing situation arises, your alert level should instantly be heightened. Although I have not offered concrete tips to win the fight, if one breaks out, hopefully with all the other guidelines you will be able to prevent that awful Step Three from happening at all.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Techniques: Gun to the forehead disarm


Defense against gun to the forehead. In this article, I will go over the attack, the disarm, some training tips, and general points to remember in learning and doing the disarm. As you have just noticed, I even have found a video by the Haganah founder to accompany my standard rambling wall of text! But fear not loyal readers, there is plenty of textual content to accompany this 21st Century addition.

In his moving article "I Was Robbed", UChicago student Jon Caitlin gives his reflections on a violent incident that occurred while in the heart of the University's campus. On the night of October 10, 2011, Mr. Caitlin was robbed at gunpoint by a young South Side man named Edward Davis. The article  discusses far more than just the robbery, but Mr. Caitlin's narrative of that incident itself is particularly compelling in both its detail and its intensity. I have reproduced the passage below for your viewing:
...three young men turned onto the Quad from University Avenue, walking past Walker and Rosenwald, and then past me in front of Swift. They were casually talking in low voices and laughing, but each of them stared as they slowly passed.

A few minutes after the group had passed, I heard footsteps behind me in the grass. I turned around to find one of the men pointing a gun at my head, standing just an arm’s length away.

“Give me the phone,” he said simply.

Almost too quickly, I handed over my iPhone—my friend still on the line. Next, he eyed the backpack sitting next to me on the bench. That’s when panic kicked in. My backpack, containing my new laptop, all my schoolwork and books, my cash, my journals and various mementos—my material life—was about to be pulled away from me.

“No!” was all I managed to say, weakly reaching for the bag. But he thrust the gun at my head and said “I’ll shoot!” He pulled it over the bench and retreated to the alley between Cobb and the Administration Building, still pointing the gun at me. Noticing I had stood up, he shouted, “Stay there!” I sat down until they had all run through the alley, then instinctively scanned the Quad for a blue light phone.
It is a powerful story and I commend Mr. Caitlin's bravery in both recounting the incident and offering reflections on its aftermath and personal meaning. Although I eventually intend on having a more in-depth discussion of this type of victimization and violence, for now I wish to discuss this incident as a martial artist.

Any martial artist who reads that story will instinctively identify the gun disarm opportunity and the gun disarm technique itself. In the martial lexicon, we just call it a "forward gun to the head" or just "gun to the head". It is a terrifying position, but a surprisingly simple disarm. But does that make the disarm the right response?

Given the nature of the crime in hindsight, it seems like an unnecessary risk. The victim was unharmed, no one else was in danger, and any martial attempts would have just escalated the situation uncontrollably. However true that might be in this specific situation, there are still times where a disarm would have been the appropriate thing to do. Perhaps the victim is with a female friend who could herself be assaulted. Perhaps the victim is with a child who may act erratically and frighten the robber into violence. We are not too hardpressed to come up with instances where going for the disarm is the best course of action (although admittedly, it is equally simple to see scenarios in which the disarm is risky and dangerous).

In this article, I will go over the attack, the defense, some training tips, and general points to remember in learning and doing the disarm. As you have sen, I even have a video today to accompany the disarm!!

Two final notes before we begin.
  • I am neither explicitly nor implicitly condemning Mr. Caitlin for his own actions during this violent moment. He handled himself with the utmost courage and with an ever-present eye to his own life and limb. Nor am I suggesting that Mr. Caitlin (or anyone else in his position) would be somehow "better off" for taking self-defense classes. His survival is one of the highest forms of self-defense, and that is true of anyone in his situation. 
  • Don't try this disarm in real life. Period. You should (almost) always acquiesce to a criminal's request, especially if it is just for your property. Home invasions, abductions, and sexual assaults get in trickier territory, and as a general rule, you will always do what you feel is necessary to stay safe and survive. If you ever envision yourself disarming a gun for any reason, be sure to have practiced it under the lowest and highest levels of stress for many hundreds of hours beforehand. Don't ever try it if the extent of your martial training is YouTube and blogposts.

THE ATTACK
An attacker holds a handgun to your forehead and makes his demands. It can be any type of handgun, whether a snub-nosed revolver or a Glock 17. The attacker could be holding the gun with his left or right hand or, if he has seen too many action movies, two-handed in a shooter's stance. If the gun is held to your temple or ear, underneath your chin, or up against the back of your head, the disarm will change; only if it is held straight at your forehead (or cheek/mouth/eye/etc.) will this disarm work.

When working with gun disarms, it is critical to remember that your attacker wants a reaction from you. He might want you to give him your money, your body, or that of your friend, spouse, or child. He might want you to move to a secondary location, get into his car, or walk to an alley. But in all these cases, he wants you to act. If just he wanted to shoot and kill you immediately, he could have done so. That gives you a window of opportunity in which you can effectively disarm.

Finally, the most important thing to consider in gun disarms is distance. As a general rule, indeed an almost unbreakable rule, don't disarm guns that are not touching your body. We are neither Neo in The Matrix nor Chuck Norris in 1990s Texas. For a disarm to maximize your safety and its own chance of success, the gun needs to be touching your body. Closing the gap to a gun, even just a few inches, can be ample time for an assailant to pull the trigger, strike, or simply back up. You can make that gap closer part of your pre-disarm act ("Hey man, don't hurt me! Don' shoot me!" as you slowly and unobtrusively move in), but unless that gap is closed before the disarm, you are never going to go for it.

POINTS TO CONSIDER
  1. DANGER 1: Getting Shot
    It's almost not worth mentioning, but for the sake of completeness, I say it anyway. That means you need to watch the gun's line of fire during the entire disarm so it never crosses your body or limbs. All good gun disarms keep that line of fire away from you at all times; there is never a "split second of risk" where the gun is aiming at your own vital targets.
  2. DANGER 2: Shooting a bystander
    I am always shocked by the number of bad gun disarms that redirect the line of fire away from your target and into any bystanders, living rooms, or passing vehicles in your vicinity. You may face both criminal and civil liability for anyone who is injured or killed as part of your unsafe disarm. Even if you are not sent to prison or sued for your life's worth, you will still have the knowledge that you killed or severely injured a scared and unarmed human being, a hefty moral burden for even the most hardened warrior. As such, you need to take all possible steps to keep the line of fire under control. During some disarms, this will be difficult (a gun to the back). During others, however, this will be far easier (this particular disarm). 
  3. Deescalate. Then disarm. 
    When working with gun disarms, you rarely want to just launch yourself into the technique. Your attacker is adrenalized, on-edge, and ready to pull the trigger. He is waiting for you to resist. Instead of offering him resistance, offer compliance at first. Temporarily agree, or appear to agree, to his demands as a means of calming him down. Note that this does not have to be a long process of convincing. Simply saying (as in Haganah) "Hey man, whatever you want" is often enough for the attacker to lower his guard. Once he is a bit more relaxed then you can deploy your disarm.
  4. Your attacker will rarely just hold a gun at your head and casually make demands. Instead, he will grab you with his free hand, maybe punch or slap you, or get close as he yells and spits and fumes in your face. Alternately, as in the case with Mr. Caitlin, he might start a few feet away and slowly close the gap to emphasize his points with an aggressive lunge of the weapon at your head. Make sure that all of these scenarios are considered in training. 
  5. As in Mr. Caitlin's own experience, an attacker might not start within hand's or even arm's reach. Even if you will never just go for a disarm at such a range, you might still need to disarm even if your attacker doesn't initially start as close as you might like. As part of training, practice unobtrusive and natural gap closes. Work them in with your deescalatory dialogue if needed.
IN-DEPTH DEFENSE
This defense is a straight import from Haganah and Krav Maga. There are lots of variations on the gun-to-forehead disarm, but I find that this one is the most effective due to its simplicity and its lack of reliance on strength: Anyone can do it against even much larger gunmen.

It is also the first technique I have discussed that actually has an associated video online! More unbelievably, the video is a) of the move as taught in the Haganah system, b) demonstrated by the art's founder, Mike Lee Kanerak, and c) short, succinct, and clear (a rarity in the world of 8 minute martial art lecture videos). It's maybe even too short, but we will walk through its finer points together. I am going to ask you to stifle any giggles or comments about Mr. Kanerak's accent or choice of words; if the video were entirely in Hebrew it would be decidedly more serious.


Looks like chicagowarrior is going modern! Because the video is so short and the technique is so smooth, it's easy to miss the nuances of the disarm. I will go over them in detail here. The adjacent pictures illustrate the step of the move. Please ignore any resemblance between the arrows and 3rd-grader drawings of Lightsabers.
  1. "Hey man, whatever you want"
    Always start a gun disarm by deescalating your attacker. If you initially appear compliant, he will be all the more surprised by your sudden disarm. Moreover, the opening deescalatory phrase helps to center and ready yourself for the fight; your brain comes to strongly associate the spoken phrase with the muscle memory attached to it (think of Classical Pavlovian Conditioning). The phrase itself can be anything you want, so long as you train it consistently across all disarms.
    As you deescalate, move your hands to the center of your body at around upper abdominal-level. Do not jerk suddenly and bring your hands up too high (in the video, Mr. Kanerak brings his hands up too high for my liking). Remember that your attacker is just as stressed and adrenalized as you are. A sudden movement might cause him to panic and pull the trigger. But you do want your hands in position for the disarm's next step.

  2. Hands shoot straight up / Squat down
    Both of these moves happen simultaneously, but I break them down into steps for the sake of explanation. First, your hands shoot straight up towards the barrel of the gun. Your thumbs will be overlapping and your fingers will be extended ready to grab around the barrel. The underside of the barrel will come to rest on top of your thumbs, just past the weapon's trigger guard. Your fingers then clasp tightly around the weapon without interlocking. Pop the gun up and away from your head, clenching it tightly in both hands. Your arms will be straight and firm, but your elbows will not be locked (as a good rule, never lock your elbows as part of any technique).
    Green shows squat and hand-pop.
    Red shows line of fire.
    If the weapon is an automatic (i.e. a magazine-fed pistol with a slide), then this action will likely jam the weapon after its first shot. Your attacker will almost certainly pull the trigger and squeeze off a round as your hands pop the gun up, at which time the slide will be unable to move back to reload another round; the pressure from your grabbing hands prevents it from sliding back.
    Second, be sure to squat down in a strong athletic stance, further distancing your head away from the line of fire. The drop-squat motion is the quickest way to get your head away from the gun while still retaining balance. If you just shrug your shoulders to lower your head, your arm-pop won't be fast and decisive.

  3. Torque gun towards attacker
    Green shows the torque.
    Red shows line of fire.

    With both hands on the weapon, you are now going to bend it towards the attacker. To do so, pronate your wrists forward and turn the gun barrel up and back into the attacker's direction. Your wrists should not be extended to cause discomfort; just bend them naturally towards the attacker while still firmly grasping the weapon.
    This movement has two effects. First, it further redirects the line of fire away from you. To gain control of the weapon you eventually need to bring it back into your body, and to do that safely, you can't have the gun pointing anywhere near you. Second, it weakens the attacker's grip. His own wrist will be bent back into his body, an angle during which it is difficult to generate any real grip strength.

  4. Pull  gun into your stomach while pointing it at attacker
    Green shows downward pull.
    Red shows line of fire.
    Neither depict a lightsaber.


    Technically, this step happens only a split-second after the previous step, so it is a bit artificial to divide them into two separate moves. But for training purposes, it makes the most sense.
    Having bent the gun towards your attacker, you are now going to pull it forcefully into your stomach while keeping it pointed in your attacker's direction. Your wrists, which were extended towards the attacker in the previous step, remain in that position during the pulling motion.
    The attacker is not going to be able to resist the pull given the angle of his own wrist and his reduced grip strength. Moreover, as you torque hard and pull the gun into you, your attacker's finger is probably going to snap. Or the tendons will rip. Or you will just tear up the skin. Remember: His finger is stuck in the trigger guard during this violent motion, and your pulling strength is more than enough (even for smaller defenders) to overpower that single digit. This acts as another short-circuit, temporarily distracting the attacker with damage and pain so he is less likely to immediately retaliate. At this point, your attacker will probably no longer be holding the weapon at all. Alternately, his hand will still be caught around the grip and trigger, but he won't actually have any force behind his grab.

  5. Slam gun into attacker
    Green shows the line of the lunge.

    Your attacker will likely try to rush in and reclaim his weapon, or at least lunge to cause damage of his own. To counteract this, you are going to take that gun and ram it into your attacker, preferably at the face or throat but also at the solar plexus or ribs. In the video, Mr. Kanerak targets his lunge at the attacker's upper chest (which might have been done just so he didn't ram the weapon into his training partner's trachea), but the head is a higher value target that can cause a lot more pain and damage. Don't just punch the gun into your target. Take a step in so you have a stable base and more power behind your lunging strike.
    It might seem counterproductive to charge into your attacker if your ultimate goal is to disengage and back up once you have control over the weapon. Unfortunately, your attacker is not going to just let you retreat so you need to deter his pursuit. Slamming the barrel of a metal gun into an attacker's throat is fairly effective as far as deterrence goes.

  6. Back up
    After you lunge it is now time to disengage and create some space. Backpedaling is rarely a good tactical decision because forward motion is always faster than backward motion and an attacker can easily overtake you. In this case, however, your ramming the gun into your attacker's face or throat gives you a window of opportunity where he is unlikely to follow.
    Once you are at least 10 feet away (remember that even trained police officers miss almost 80% of the time in close engagements, a fascinating point that merits additional discussion at a later time) you can do one of two things.
    First, if you have some experience with a handgun, you can re-rack the slide, clear the jammed cartridge, and train the gun on your attacker. Keep your finger off the trigger at all times. You do not want to accidentally squeeze off a shot at your attacker if he suddenly gets up and runs away. We have a word for that in the justice system: Homicide. You can only shoot if the attacker rushes in to reclaim his gun, or if he reaches to draw another weapon AND you have strong reason to believe that he is reaching for a weapon and not a phone.
    Most martial artists will, hopefully, be uncomfortable with the thought of shooting another human being, even if he was your attacker. If that is the case, or you lack firearm familiarity, then you can go with Option B: Run away. Make sure you keep your finger off the trigger at all times as you flee and, once in a safe location, proceed to call the police. The aftermath of a gun disarm will always feel like the longest and most uncertain part of the ordeal, but these tips should help you get through it.
THOUGHTS
Let's look back at Mr. Caitlin's incident and see where this gun disarm would come into play. Astute martial artists will notice that there is no window of opportunity to disarm in the first moments of the encounter. The attacker, Mr. Davis, is just too far away (emphasis added below):
A few minutes after the group had passed, I heard footsteps behind me in the grass. I turned around to find one of the men pointing a gun at my head, standing just an arm’s length away.

“Give me the phone,” he said simply.

Almost too quickly, I handed over my iPhone—my friend still on the line.
Going for gun disarms at "arm's length" only works in movies. In a real encounter, it means almost certain death. Clearly this is not the opportune time to attempt the technique. Moments later, however, Mr. Davis makes his error (at least from a martial perspective). Again, in case this is not amply clear, I am not suggesting that Mr. Caitlin should have done anything differently during his ordeal. Nor am I attempting to minimize the consequences of that attack and somehow trivialize it as a purely martial example. I am instead treating his story as an illustrative narrative of armed robbery that can help others in similar situations.
Next, he eyed the backpack sitting next to me on the bench. That’s when panic kicked in. My backpack, containing my new laptop, all my schoolwork and books, my cash, my journals and various mementos—my material life—was about to be pulled away from me.

“No!” was all I managed to say, weakly reaching for the bag. But he thrust the gun at my head and said “I’ll shoot!”
Now, I admit that I was not present during the attack and my interpretation of this incident could be incorrect. That said, the moment where Mr. Davis "thrusts" that gun at his target's head is also potentially the time to disarm. It is possible that the weapon was still too far, but if it was only a few inches away, then a disarm would definitely have been possible. Done at full speed, this is an extremely fast technique, and if we know anything about human physicality it is that action will always beat reaction. That still might not justify using the disarm. Maybe the gun was still too far away, or maybe the victim (Mr. Caitlin in this case) did not feel threatened enough to act; personal property is rarely worth risking life and limb. But under the appropriate circumstances, this incident could potentially have been resolved with our gun disarm. 

TRAINING TIPS
  1. Make sure your partner's finger is NOT in the trigger guard. If it is and you execute the technique at full or near-full speed, you will cause a lot of damage to your colleague. 
  2. Alter the angle of the gun as it is held to your head. Some attackers might aim it straight into your brow. Others will hold it on the side in the so-called "Gangster Grip". Yet others will angle it downwards, especially if you are a shorter defender. Train as many angles as you can to grow accustomed to the possibilities.
  3. Start slow and then build up to speed. Because this move is so smooth and quick, it is tempting to get overly excited and launch right in to the full-speed version. Students that do this invariably mess up some of the finer details of the technique and fail during the stress drills. 
  4. For the attacking partner, make sure you are trying to pull the gun away after your partner starts the disarm. If done correctly, there is no opportunity to pull the gun away before your finger is broken and the gun is already too far away from your body. Only add in the attacker reaction if you are already training this at faster speeds.

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
Reported
Date/Time
Occurred
CommentsUCPDI#
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
3/1/13
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.

FAILED UCPD RESPONSIBILITIES
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.

POSSIBLE EXPLANATIONS
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.
  2. NEW CPD RESPONSE PROTOCOLS?
    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
  3. CRIMES NOT ACTUALLY REPORTED TO UCPD
    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.