Tuesday, April 30, 2013

North Hyde Park Homicide - 52nd and Harper

A 39 year old man was shot and killed while in an apartment building in North Hyde Park. The shooting happened at approximately 12:15 AM in a red brick building in the 5200 block of S. Harper Avenue (it's further down the block than the Google van went; the SW Corner of Harper). According to police, the victim was in a hallway of the building with his friend when the gunman approached and opened fire. The friend tried to pull the victim into an apartment unit but was struck in the hand. The same bullet passed through is hand and into the victim's ribcage. The Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times versions of the story have slight differences, but the underlying facts and conclusions are clear.

Stories like this invariably draw a lot of attention and press, even if they misrepresent our local crime. It made front page press on every major media website in the area, and I can't wait to hear the UChicago response. That all being said, Hyde Park is a very safe neighborhood. Our crime rate is consistently one of the lowest in the city, with an overall violent crime rate comparable to Lincoln Park. I always remind students, prospective students, and other Chicagoans that Hyde Park is one of the safest neighborhoods in the city, let alone on the South Side.

But how is the average UChicagoan or local Hyde Park resident supposed to reconcile the neighborhood's supposed safety with a homicide? Heck, the incident happened a block away from UChicago's snazzy Harper Court development; nothing says "welcome to Harper Theater!" like a homicide. With those worries in mind, here are some important considerations that everyone should remember when they are talking about this incident:
  1. The murder happened in an apartment
    Street homicides are far more problematic than indoor ones, at least from a public safety perspective. Hyde Park has an outrageous number of policemen on patrol at any given time, both CPD and UCPD units. If anything, their frequent presence probably forced the murderer to come after his target in the building precisely because the street was too well-monitored. So don't worry too much about walking around in that area.

  2. North Hyde Park actually DOES have a gang presence
    People always ask me about Hyde Park gangs. I tell them to check out University Theater (UT), the fraternities, and Humans vs. Zombies; these are the closest entities that UChicago has to a "gang". But to be perfectly serious, the area around the 53rd and Blackstone Boston Market actually does have a gang presence. I have confirmed with multiple sources (community members, police, stats, etc.) that the Black P. Stones operate a drug market around that area. You can identify one of the Almighty P. Stones by their red clothing, their penchant for wearing flip flops (no joke), and any hats facing the right side. Relative to other South Side neighborhoods, the 52nd/Blackstone area does not have a gang problem, persay. But it does have a gang presence. I would not be surprised if this homicide were related to the BPSN, although it is just as likely to be a dispute about "stupid shit". Whatever happened, the average UChicagoan doesn't need to worry too much.

  3. This is only Hyde Park's 6th homicide in 5 years
    The Chicago citywide per-capita murder rate is about 16 per 100,000 residents. That's a whole lot worse than New York City's (5 per 100,000), but a whole lot better than that of Detroit (55/100,000). Neighborhoods vary wildly in homicide rates, from the safe downtown area (0 homicides) to areas like West Englewood of WBEZ fame (54/100,000) or Grand Crossing (74/100,000). Hyde Park's annual homicide rate in 2012 was 4/100,000 with just one murder. We are on track for the same rate this year, and it is unlikely that more bodies will be dropping around our super rough neighborhood.
We shouldn't really be worried about the murder itself. What we should definitely be worried about is the UCPD's failure to alert us to the incident. I have been berating the UCPD on my blog for months now about their repeated failures at informing students about local crime, and this most recent incident is just another entry in that history of inadequacy.

Students were probably not at risk during the shooting. I also understand that the UCPD wants to avoid panic. I even am willing to concede that the UCPD has some responsibility to avoid bad press for the University, and anyone with a UChicago degree can appreciate that.

But after the shooting, the police did not catch the gunman. As the Tribune says, "Police said they were searching for the gunman and could not say why he opened fire." That meant that he was presumably on the streets looking to get out of the area, and we know that criminals don't do smart things period, let alone when they are trapped, cornered, and have just committed a serious offense. This rogue gunman could have jacked a car or at least broken into one. He could have tried to get into someone's house. He could have killed someone who saw him acting suspiciously. The murder itself might have been relatively "private", but the gunman's escape was a much more public affair.

Students live in that area. Students take public transportation around there, walk back from parties, park their car, etc. A desperate gunman trying to elude capture could definitely be a serious threat to anyone who he came across, and students should have been alerted. They would need to know to lock their doors, avoid strangers (moreso than usual), and generally be on the lookout for suspicious individuals.

The UCPD has a responsibility to inform us of these events. It continues to fail when it matters most. Yes, the UCPD has had successes (reporting on a few high profile robberies), but I think that a fleeing gunman is a bigger threat than a random mugging. Was he likely to hurt students? Probably not. Was he likely to commit more crimes? Again, probably not. But let the students know what is happening and let us use the information to be safe. Don't conceal information to prevent rumors and profiling; it happens anyway precisely because of the lack of transparency.

Whether or not the UCPD decides to inform us of future crimes, stay safe out there readers!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Chicago Thoughts: Treat chicago gang members as people

Are Chicago's gangs terrorists? Should we treat Chicago gang violence in the same way that we treat acts of terrorism? A good friend of mine recently shared a CNN Opinion article asking these questions. Whenever our city's violence makes national news, it's always a mix of tragedy and triumph. The tragedy is invariably in an act of violence that has taken yet another young person's life (as with Derrion Albert or Hadiya Pendleton). The triumph is that someone outside of Cook County is showing any interest whatsoever in our problems. Before we can talk about the article's arguments, take a moment to read it. If you can't, here is its main point in the words of the author, LZ Granderson:
"And if the name attached to all of this violence were al-Qaeda instead of Gangster Disciples; or if instead of "gang violence" the bloodshed were called "terrorism;" or if instead of calling the people spreading fear and mayhem gangs we were to call them what they really are -- terrorists -- the nation would demand more be done."
For police officers, policy wonks, and the average middle class Chicagoan, this argument probably seems like an accurate description of our city's violence. Residents of distressed South, West, and even North Side (Rogers Park; Jonquil and Juneway - "The Jungle") communities, however, would be more ambivalent. On the one hand, they are the ones who are daily affected by the terror of violence. But on the other hand, the so-called terrorists are all their sons, brothers, uncles, nephews, cousins, and friends.

And then there is my perspective as a social worker. Granderson says that reclassifying gangs as terrorist groups is an "exercise in empathy" for the victims of violence, both those who are shot and those who live amongst the shooting. But this classification ignores, even vilifies, the most important victims of gang violence, those who are most deserving of our help and empathy: The gang members themselves.

From a technical perspective, we can definitely think of a definition of "gang member" that fits under the "terrorist" category. For one, there are just so many different definitions of "terrorism" that at least a few are bound to apply to gangs. Both groups are violent. Both use fear as a weapon and/or cause fear by virtue of their activities. Both find ideological foundation in a powerful and longstanding philosophy that has been altered, even warped, to fit its contemporary usage. Today's Middle Eastern terrorists operate in decentralized and splintered cells. Chicago gangs exist in autonomous cliques. As to the members themselves, disaffected and troubled young men in Auburn Gresham have a lot in common with their peers in Anbar. So at least from this technical side, the definition of "terrorist" might overlap with that of "gang member".

But Granderson's argument is more than a technical one. He does not want us to consider gang members as terrorists just because of definitional similarities. His goal is to make gang violence more tragic and demanding of our empathy:
What seems like a linguistic shell game is really an exercise in empathy. The thought of elementary school kids walking across areas of a city controlled by three terrorist groups becomes unacceptable to everyone, not just their parents. Hearing that 25 Chicagoans were shot in one weekend becomes a threat to national security, and not just the mayor's problem.
Granderson wants Americans to empathize with the victims of this violence in the same way that we all felt the horrors of Boston. Invoking terrorism can achieve that and spur action. It's a noble end, but a profoundly flawed approach.

The problem is that Granderson's goals of increasing and his reframing of gangs as terrorists are at odds. The recharacterization is supposed to be "an exercise in empathy", one for the kids, the families, the neighborhoods, and the victims of violence. But the young people who are equally, if not more, deserving of our empathy are the gang members themselves.

There are countless reasons to want to join a gang, including protection, notoriety, status, money, and desire of a peer group. These seemingly disparate motivations have one unifying theme: The gang member's environment. It is our job to empathize with the effects of that environment. The young men and women of Chicago are not inherently predisposed to join violent criminal groups. Rather, their upbringing and neighborhood shape them in such a way as to make it difficult to resist gang influence.

It starts with families. Many young college-educated students pursue a career path following their parents' examples (doctors, lawyers, and professors come to mind). But what happens if your uncle was a Vice Lord lieutenant, or if your brother was killed over a dispute on Twitter, or if your father is in prison for robbing an armored car? If all, or even some, of your role-models are tangled up in such activities, your goals are going to be different than those of an attorney's child. Neighborhood influences are no better. For many of my readers, the daily high school reality was extracurriculars, sports teams, video game afternoons with friends, endless homework, and a nonstop cycle of applications. For Chicago's forgotten youth, their reality is different. Avoiding or committing robberies and shootings are their after school activity. Fights break out in the halls of school or even the stairways (or bedrooms) of your apartment. Many males you see are either on probation, parole, or former felons. And then there are the gang members with their girls, their cool shoes and hats, their guns, and their aura of strength. In that environment, it is no wonder that youth turn to the protection and power of the gangs, just as it is no wonder that we apply to college.

I admit that this is a vastly oversimplified, if not cliched, view of gang involvement. But it is still a much more honest and real one than that suggested in Granderson's piece.

Categorizing gang members as a terrorists eliminates their complicated narrative. It forces us to view them as monsters to be defeated, not kids to be helped. All of the above environmental factors can be resisted with support from parents, teachers, mentors, and other well-intentioned entities. We see it every day, whether in the Golden Apple-winning teacher from Englewood or the youth programs of Becoming A Man. There are people out there who are trained to succeed at this struggle, and even though we have our failures, we have countless more success stories. That helping process becomes impossible once we categorize our clients and fellow citizens as terrorists.

The real exercise in empathy is to be dissatisfied with the stereotypes of gangs and to try and understand how they work. This means rejecting Granderson's argument and his classifying of gangs as terrorists. It means even rejecting my own simplified picture above and searching for more nuance. Above all, it means seeing that the gang members we are so eager to vilify often have only one difference from us: Their neighborhood. If we can start to succeed at that exercise in empathy, then we can start to really see the factors that create gangs, cause violence, and kill children. And once we can see that, then we can start to make the changes that are needed.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 14, 2013

CRIME ALERT: Armed robbery at 56th/57th and University

Security alert issued at 9:30 AM by the UCPD. By my count, this is the first security alert of the new year.
"At approximately 5:25 a.m., Sunday, April 14 – Two University students walking south on University Avenue between 56th Street and 57th Street were  approached by two unknown males, one of whom was armed with a handgun. The suspects took the victims’ wallets and an iPhone before entering a waiting mid-size black vehicle that sped northbound on University Avenue. The victims were not injured."
These descriptions are always annoying to me. They are about as vague as you can possibly get without being outright negligent. There are no details of the clothing, height, build, complexion, hair, etc. Of course, the two students may not recall those details for reasons of stress, intoxication, or some combination of both. But if it's the UCPD deliberately omitting details to prevent panic or false accusations, then that's a much more frustrating state of affairs. 

The crime is particularly noteworthy for this blog because it happened at basically the least "likely" time and place for Hyde Park crime to occur. Does this mean that my last post on April Hyde Park crime was wrong? In answer to that, I will simply quote myself from that previous article:
"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."
As a final note, robbers are predators of habit. If their first incident was successful, they are likely to try again. That said, police work is best at reactive enforcement. UCPD cars are likely to increase patrol in the area just to prevent this from happening. But as we all know, the police can't be everywhere at once, and they can't even stay in the same place for too long. This puts the preventative burden on pedestrians and community members to do three things:
  1. Report suspicious activity. If you see a black car plus two suspicious looking men, do not hesitate to call the police. Be on the lookout for suspicious cues that are not just racial. Look for men that are (not an exhaustive list)...
    • Constantly looking over their shoulders
    • Wearing jackets that are too thick for the weather
    • Have no other bags or belongings to suggest they are in transit between point A and point B
    • Are in the vicinity of a mid-size black card (not a van)
  2. Exercise personal awareness. If you feel uncomfortable about others on the street, don't be afraid to turn around or cross to the other sidewalk. Don't worry about offending people. Personal safety is always the priority. That doesn't mean you should indiscriminately profile; crossing the street whenever you see 2+ black men is neither an effective self-defense policy nor the way of the warrior. But if you have other reasons to feel unsafe, then do not hesitate to run.
  3. IF YOU GET ROBBED, try and remember as many details as possible. License plate, tattoos, clothes, jewelry, etc. All of these details are critical in helping the police catch the criminals and preventing them from striking again. This sort of under-stress recollection is admittedly difficult, but even a single remembered detailed ("he had a silver ring with a gold stud on his gun hand") can be invaluable.
Stay safe out there!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

April safety briefing - Hyde Park crime map and trends

Spring is coming to Chicago, and that means Cubs games losses, ankle deep puddles, the return of street cleaning (move your cars now!), and increased violent crime. For students at UChicago, April is a month where we often see an uptick in robberies and batteries around Hyde Park, which can be particularly dangerous for students more concerned with finishing their thesis papers and dumpster diving for Scavenger Hunt. This article is a detailed overview of April crime in Hyde Park. Although it is always risky to extrapolate crime patterns from one specific month (it's not like criminals follow a reliable monthly schedule, to say nothing of all he variables affecting crime), it serves as a good entry point to give students and community members an idea about what violent crime might look like in this rainy and warmer spring month. We will be looking at April data for the past 6 years. I will talk about the where (blocks), when (times/days), and what (types of incidents) of April crime, giving you the information you need to have a safe start to your spring quarter.

(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)

As in the greater city of Chicago, crime is not uniformly distributed across Hyde Park.
  • 31% of all April violent crimes (43 incidents) happens south of the Midway, disproportionately concentrated near 61st and Cottage, and 61st/62nd and Kimbark. 
  • Another 20% of April violence (28 incidents) occurs in the West Hyde Park area bounded by 55th and 53rd Streets, and Woodlawn and Cottage Grove.
The UChicago campus itself has been extremely safe for these past 6 years. In that time, only about 10 incidents occurred near campus buildings. Although there are notable exceptions to this, underscoring the need for constant awareness, the closer you are to the University itself, the safer you will be. But even so, try and keep those iPhones in your pockets.

I created the Google map below to show the April distribution of violent crimes across Hyde Park. 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

If it looks like Hyde Park has a lot of scary dots, just remember that this is a) 6 year data and b) a lot less crime than we see in other neighborhoods across the city. 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.
  • Battery was the most common crime in Hyde Park, accounting for 44% of all crimes (60). This was followed by robbery (33%, 45) and assault (20%, 27).
  • There were only 2 homicides and 1 reported incident of Criminal Sexual Assault in Hyde Park over this time period. 
  • Most Hyde Park violent crime is commited by unarmed perpetrators. Over the past 6 Aprils, just 30% of incidents (39) involved a gun, knife, or other weapon.
  • The vast majority of batteries (80%) involved unarmed perpetrators.
    Robberies were split between unarmed, strongarm incidents (58%) and armed attacks involving guns (33%) or knives and other dangerous weapons (6%).
The table below gives a bigger picture of all the April 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.

April violent crimes in Hyde Park: 2007 - 2012
Type Description # of incidents
All Assault 27
Simple Assault
Aggravanted Assault - Gun
Aggravated Assault - Knife/Other
All Battery 60
Simple Battery
Aggravated Battery - Gun
Aggravated Battery - Knife/Other
All Robbery 45
Strongarm Robbery
Armed Robbery - Gun
Armed Robbery - Knife/Other
Criminal Sexual
Homicide 2

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).

If you had an overly protective mother like mine, then you probably have heard that some hours of the day are more dangerous than others: "Be home before dark!" "Be careful taking the train at night!" These common sense expressions might hint at the uneven distribution of crime throughout the day, but in the case of Hyde Park at least, are very misleading.
  • From 2007 through 2012, the most dangerous time of day was between 3:00 and 5:00 PM. 22% of all daily crime occurred during that time period, with 16% happening just between 4:00 and 5:00 PM. This fact was quite scary to me. 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!
  • The three hours between 8:00 and 11:00 PM were also high crime windows, with about 25% of all Hyde Park violence occurring during that time. When you head out to a party or for a late night snack, do not forget your basic awareness skills.
  • Early morning crime is very rare in Hyde Park (and in general). From 1:00 AM through 8:00 AM, there were only 18 incidents reported in April for all 6 years combined.
Again, we must acknowledge that crime trends often fluctuate wildly throughout the years, so there is some risk in comparing previous Aprils to previous Aprils. But the time trends of the Aprils is 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 April violent crime in Hyde Park. The 4:00- 5:00 PM spike is impossible to miss, as is the relative safety of the early morning.

None of this is to suggest that you should change your daily plans to avoid criminal behavior. It isn't as if criminals are lurking around the outskirts of campus waiting to jump hapless UChicago students after their 4:20 PM class ends. But this graphic does emphasize the need for constant vigilance and awareness, and the seamless incorporation of those skills into your daily routine.

Hyde Park crime is relatively stable throughout the week, which might come as a surprise to many Chicagoans. We often think of Fridays and Saturdays, especially at night, as the most dangerous days of the week. Although this is absolutely true of shootings (i.e. aggravated battery with a handgun), it is not true of other crimes like robbery, assault, and simple battery. This suggests that students should be aware of crimes during all days of the week.

The graph below breaks down the three different violent crime types (assault, battery, robbery) by day, aggregating data from the past 6 Aprils. Although some crimes appear to occur on one day more than others, I would caution against reading too much into this from this data alone. The graphic is just to give some sense of the relative consistency of crime throughout the week.

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 analytial tools (anyone up for some Wednesday afternoon regressions?) 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.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Don't bring a gun to a knife fight - The 10 foot rule

Wild West desperadoes, Chicago gangsters (see Sean Connery in The Untouchables), 1870s Samurai, and the average 21st Century firearm enthusiast are all familiar with one time honored aphorism: "Don't bring a knife to a gun fight". It's a phrase that seems to pass both the common-sense test and the test of time. A closer examination of the knife/gun showdown, however, reveals a different picture. Even though firearms replaced swords on the battlefield, blades are still just as dangerous in interpersonal violent crime. And at close range, they are actually even deadlier than a gun.

"No thanks, I'm gonna stick with the F-14."

This article draws inspiration from the so-called "21 foot rule", coined by Utah police officer Dennis Tueller in 1984. Tueller claimed that officers could not draw their guns and shoot a knife-wielding attacker who charged from 21 feet away. Fortunately, as numerous YouTube videos show, Tueller's rule is a bit too conservative; defenders with a gun are actually fairly safe at 21 feet, especially if they are well trained, have already racked their weapon, fire from the hip, and sidestep off the line of attack. But even just 5 feet closer, the advantage returns to the knifer. 

In this article, I offer an equally terrifying revision to Tueller's initial theory: The 10 foot rule. Gathering a wide range of martial, mathematical, and physical evidence, I will show:
  1. At 10 feet away, a knifer will be able to reach and stab a gun-toting defender, even if the gun user has his hand on his holstered weapon, draws fast, sidesteps, and is 100% aware of the impending attack (unless that defender ALSO fires from the hip, which is itself an extremely low-accuracy shot). 
  2. Even if you are skilled and lucky enough to get a gun out in this tiny window, your chance of hitting the target is low, and that's assuming you are firing from a stance and not the hip. Trained police officers only have a 38% hit rate at 0-2 feet when under stress!
In presenting my case, I call into question the fake sense of security that many civilians and professionals have in carrying a gun, emphasizing the need for increased training in unarmed knife defense.

Even during the 20th Century, neither martial artists, soldiers, nor police officers ever doubted the effectiveness of blades. World Wars 1 and 2 saw countless knife fights and melee encounters, evidenced in accounts of English soldiers and tales of trenchfighting from literature. Special forces units across the globe to this day train extensively in blade techniques. This emphasis arose not only from grisly battlefield realities, but also the lessons of East Asian martial arts. Filipino and Indonesian systems in particular, like Kali, Arnis, and Silat, focused around armed combat, and were an important source of inspiration for much of the literature surrounding knives and guns. Dan Inosanto, a colleague of Bruce Lee's and a master of Silat, offered a powerful video testament to the danger of knives at close range. You only need to watch the first 60 seconds to get the idea:

Innosanto's exhibition is hardly a "scientific" study of knife effectiveness, even if it is a memorable demonstration. And yes, we can criticize these officers' reaction from our cozy rooms, but unless you have either participated in those kinds of drills or been in those situations, you won't understand the danger. Under stress and pressure at close range, a reactive gunman will often lose to an active knifer. Silat, Kali, Israeli martial systens, and other modern knife systems obviously do not teach students to assault law enforcement personnel, but they do teach them to honor the power and art of the blade.

It was this sort of knowledge that forced Sgt.Tueller to define the 21 Foot Rule. In making that rule, Tueller observed that officers needed to know the dangers against close-range knife wielding attackers. With a gun on your hip, it is easy to be too comfortable when facing down a suspect, even one who is potentially armed. But as Tueller, Inosanto, and other professionals showed, the knife remains a real danger to anyone, even (or especially!) armed police officers.

These dangers are compounded by the effects of stress on a body. Rory Miller, martial art author, correction officer, and all-around authority on stress training and fighting, explains the physical and mental deterioration that occurs under stress. Fine motor control disappears (to simulate this, sprint up and down the stairs for a minute and then try a typing test on your computer). Reaction speed slows to a crawl. Some people freeze under fear of harm and death. Others panic and curl into a protective ball. Everything might appear to happen in slow motion, or everything might be a blur of high-speed movement. Auditory and visual exclusion are common in these situations. You won't remember or hear a loud gun shot or see the color of the attacker's jacket, but you will hear his shoelace pattering against the ground as he runs, or recall the color of his earring.

Even with training, these influences make it extremely difficult to execute any precise physical movements. Drawing a weapon, especially from a concealed holster, becomes harder than an egg-in-spoon race while hopping in a burlap sac. Your coordination decays to that of a child, and that's assuming you drilled the movements extensively. Without such rigorous stress-training, you won't be able to lift your hands in surrender, let alone draw and fire a gun, let alone draw and fire a gun on a charging and crazed attacker.

Tueller and his law enforcement colleagues are all fully appreciative of these afore-mentioned factors of time, distance, and stress. But even when dealing with expert opinion, it is always nice to have a new perspective on a problem. Working in the name of science, Adam and Jamie of Mythbusters fame also tested Tueller's rule in an episode on gun myths, confirmed a 16 foot kill (the exact time of which is linked here). Of course, numerous internet communities have questioned the conclusion; Adam (the defender) could have fired from the hip, pre-racked his gun, been a better trained carrier to begin with, and actually been under stress. It's a good test and an entertaining video, but it has a lot of room for improvement. Following these criticisms, I wanted to simulate the same test using different methods.

To rerun the test without the camera and digital technology of Mythbusters, I needed to use some numbers. This involved calculating both the running speed of an attacker and the gun draw speed of a defender under stress.
Rich Eisen: Standard
Chicago criminal
We need to assume an average attacker without any exceptional athletic ability. Obviously, if Usain Bolt charged you with a knife, you would be screwed. But given that individuals with multi-million dollar talents for speed are generally not criminals, we need to look at a more average running speed. To calculate this, I took measurements from unorthodox sources: Jamie in the Mythbusters video, and the running speed of NFL Network's Rich Eisen. Rich Eisen is somewhat of a mini-internet sensation for his annual 40 yard dash tradition at the NFL Combine. You can see his 2012 attempt here, and even if you are only passingly familiar with running, football, or announcers, you will find it hilarious. Why use these sources? Eisen's and Jamie's runs had clear distance markers on the ground (tape for Jamie and the football field for Eisen), were easy to time (just rewind the video), and show average runners (Rich Eisen and Jamie Hyneman might be the most average runners in history). All measurements considered, the final speed was roughly 12 feet/second, measured just over the first 5 and 10 yards to account for acceleration.
Condition Red Awareness (ready to fight): .9 seconds
Condition Orange Awareness (suspicious): 1.3 seconds
Condition Yellow Awareness (relaxed but aware): 1.9 seconds

Drawing your gun and firing is far more difficult under stress than when on the range. Even if you have already racked the slide and have a round chambered to shoot, the whole motion takes a lot of time. To assess the draw-time of real professionals under stress, I used two videos. In the first, a police officer draws a gun during a traffic stop, after a suspicious male pulls an object from his belt. In the second, a security guard pulls and fires on three robbers who burst through the doors and rush him. These clips not only give clear images of gun draw timing, but show it from different levels of awareness. The policeman is in "condition orange", fixating on an identified threat and generally prepared for a confrontation. The security guard is in "condition yellow", alert and aware on his job but overall at ease and with no specific threats in view. We can infer a "condition red" based on the time it takes for the two officers to draw their weapon when their hands are already on the gun.
The table below compares a) the charging attacker's distance and b) the draw speed of defenders at different states of awareness. The "Conditions" comprise a tactical awareness system codified by 20th Century gun icon Jeff Cooper (pioneer in stances, training, shooting, etc.). This article here gives a more detailed overview of the system. I have summarized key points below:

Just another day at the Reg
  • Condition White, aka Condition UChicago: Totally oblivious to any chance of danger. This is how you act when dozing in the Regenstein library during final's week.
  • Condition Yellow:  Your eyes are open and you are casually prepared for danger. This is how your average gun carrier or martial artist will walk around the street.
  • Condition Orange: You have identified a potential threat but have no reason to yet act aggressively. You are prepared for violence but not committed to it. This is how you act when someone asks to borrow your phone.
  • Condition Red: You knows that violence is coming. Your hands are ready to fight or already on your weapon. This is how you act when someone who just asked to borrow your phone gets angry and in your face.
With these conditions in mind, I have highlighted the earliest times that a defender in a certain state of awareness can act if attacked with a knife. In homage to the internet critics, I include both the hip-shot and stance-shot times (firing from the hip being substantially less accurate but faster).

Knife versus Gun Simulation
Time (t) Attacker: Distance
Condition Yellow Defender Condition Orange Defender Condition Red Defender
.09 seconds 1 foot

.17 seconds 2 feet

.26 seconds 3 feet

.35 seconds 4 feet

.43 seconds 5 feet

.52 seconds 6 feet

.61 seconds 7 feet

Shot from hip possible
.69 seconds 8 feet

.78 seconds 9 feet

.87 seconds 10 feet

.95 seconds 11 feet

Shot from stance possible
1.04 seconds 12 feet
Shot from hip possible
1.13 seconds 13 feet

1.21 seconds 14 feet

1.30 seconds 15 feet

1.39 seconds 16 feet
Shot from stance possible
1.47 seconds 17 feet Shot from hip possible

1.56 seconds 18 feet

1.65 seconds 19 feet

1.73 seconds 20 feet

1.82 seconds 21 feet Shot from stance possible

Remember that your average defender, whether police officer or civilian gun carrier, will recognize and identify a potential threat at condition orange. You can't walk around in a perpetual state of condition red combat readiness without scaring bystanders and probably getting in legal trouble. When a stranger starts an argument or gets too close, you can ready yourself to draw, but you really can't have your gun in hand and ready to fire. If they escalate from "Hey man what time is it?" to stabbing mode, you are going to be a step behind. But even if you were ready to draw (condition red), you would still be in danger at close range.

Here is a summary of the critical distances on the table:
  • Condition Yellow
    Fire from hip - 17 feet
    Fire from stance - 21 feet
  • Condition Orange
    Fire from hip - 12 feet
    Fire from stance - 16 feet
  • Condition Red
    Fire from hip - 7 feet
    Fire from stance - 11 feet
Conclusion: Unless you are in condition red and firing from the hip, any attacker within 10 feet is going to be fatal.

In the more common condition orange, our awareness level during a building altercation, the lethal distance of a knife extends to the 12-16 foot range (the same distance as covered by Jamie during the Mythbusters test). And all of those numbers assume that you are hitting on the first shot which, as will be shown, is extremely unlikely.

As our earlier conversation about stress suggests, it is hard to hit targets at close range when under pressure. But is there evidence to support our purely logical extrapolation? In a 2003 article (pdf) in Law and Order Magazine, Thomas Aveni analyzed thousands of NYPD police-involved shooting records. His goal was to separate the police academy myths from the street realities, and his findings were quite alarming. For our purposes, his most important conclusion concerned firearm accuracy at close range, or rather, their lack of accuracy.

A 100% accurate simulation
of a stressful attack
In a sample of 1,719 shootings between 1994 and 2000, 1,188 shootings occurred at a range of 0-2 yards (69% of the total). In such close range encounters, officers fired on average 5 shots, with some firing only 1 or 2, and others firing at least 8. The big surprise was not the number of close range encounters nor the number of shots fired. It was the accuracy of the trained and professional officers.

At 0-2 feet, officers only hit 38% of their shots. The dataset does not break down individual cases, so we can't know if some officers were firing three times and hitting once, firing twice and never hitting, or any other combination of hits and misses. To be conservative, we can assume that you would need to fire 3 shots to "guarantee" that 1 of them would hit.

This makes the knife situation even worse. Not only do you have to draw your weapon before the attacker reaches you, but you need to then squeeze off 3 shots under stress while a maniac is charging you, praying that your hits drop your target. Considering the adrenaline of your attacker, plus the locations of your hits, your shots might not even register.

Combining our revisit of Tueller's rule with the accuracy data of Aveni's article, we see that firearms are at a big disadvantage against close-range knives. Even stepping off the line of the attack, firing from the hip, and being in hyper-aware condition red are no guarantees of survival. Should you be lucky enough to draw your sidearm in time, you still are likely miss your first shot.
"Learn the best disarm techniques..."
These conclusions have pressing implications for firearm-carrying civilians and professionals. At close range, the gun is not going to reliably beat the knife. A much more consistent first line of defense is unarmed technique. Hand-to-hand knife disarms are dangerous and skill-intensive, but with practice and experience they can approach some measure of reliability. Obviously, the trick is to learn the best disarm techniques and not the ones that will get you killed. The other trick is to drill them under stress. Those unarmed techniques need not be the final defense. Instead, think of them as an initial shield and response to the knife before you disengage and draw a weapon. It takes less than a quarter of a second to bring your hands up in defense, which means you stand a chance against a knife even at around 2-3 feet.

"...and not the ones that will get you killed"
For police departments and academies, this means more emphasis on unarmed techniques and less emphasis on 25 foot range shooting. For civilians, this means equal training time on the range and on the mats. A handgun might be a great tool for self-defense, but in the close-range knife contest, it is just a false sense of security. The sword and bayonet may have been replaced in most arenas of modern violence, but in the realm of interpersonal criminal violence, remember not to rely on a gun in a knife fight.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Chicago Crime: Gun violence and mob attacks

Police superintendent Garry McCarthy is in trouble. Despite his many strategies (including drop boxes, hot spot policing, mobile response teams, etc.), this past weekend saw at least 2 killed and 23 wounded in shootings across the city. I am pretty sure that doesn't count the 4 wounded Sunday night after the Sun-Times published the 2 and 23 count. Nor does it include the woman found dead in a West Side park, with signs of trauma to the head. All of this occurred over just 3 days of warm weather, with temperatures climbing as high as 59 F on Saturday afternoon. That certainly does not bode well for April and May, months which historically have seen extreme violence spikes following similar temperature increases.

As if in response to the weekend calamities, the CPD reported to ABC news that overall gun homicides were down this March as compared with March 2012. CPD officials lauded the "69% reduction" in homicide as compared with last March, placing special emphasis on the violence reduction strategies and efforts implemented since January.

Don't be fooled. These are absurd statements without the proper context, and that context is not criminological or sociological. In this case, it's almost entirely meteorological. March 2012 recorded the highest temperatures in over a century. We saw 80 degree days on the upper end and 60 degree days as the norm. This March saw temperatures in the low 30s throughout almost the entire month. We saw over 4 inches of accumulated snow for the first week and a half. I haven't run any analyses to compare temperature and crime for this year, but my overwhelming suspicion is that the numbers will rain all over the CPD's parade.

Unfortunately for McCarthy, the gun violence wasn't even the worst news of the weekend. That dubious honor goes to the mob attacks and beatings that occurred up and down Chicago's downtown Magnificent Mile. If a superintendent of the CPD has any standing orders, it's to keep the Mag Mile, and the affluent, happy shoppers/tourists, insulated from city crime. If there's one thing that Mayor Emanuel must hate, it's mob attacks on the Mag Mile. Saturday's incidents included a pack of 11 young men beating and robbing women on the CTA Red Line, fifty-strong mobs tearing down Chicago Avenue, while allegedly hassling, intimidating, and assaulting pedestrians, and a massive police action that shut down the street and summoned back up from districts across the city. All of this centered around the intersection of Chicago and State, the Chicago Red Line stop that is the South Side's gateway to the Mag Mile. All of this caused by young black men and women who apparently went downtown with the expressed intent of causing havoc. It was reminiscent of the "wilding" attacks of last year, although those almost seem tamer when compared to the actions of Saturday.

Concerned readers might ask why Garry and Rahm are more concerned about random mob assaults downtown instead of the awful gun violence ravaging the South and West sides. For the politicos of City Hall, our downtown area is always priority number one. They view the Loop and Mag Mile as the center of our tourism industry, the heart of our economy, and the gleaming public face to national and international audiences. When the violence of the city's periphery spills into its core, our stores lose customers and property, our hotels lose guests, and our wealthy downtown taxpayers fume. We make national news, and we generally look bad.

For social workers like myself, not to mention community leaders, activists, educators, and neighborhood residents, our focus will always be on the marginalized communities stricken with violence and poverty. But we must understand that this emphasis is not shared by the Man downtown. We can imagine that Mayor Emanuel had some choice words to share with Mr. McCarthy in a tense Saturday night phone call. It's one thing that the manifold CPD strategies seem entirely reliant on temperature. It's another thing entirely that the CPD can't even protect the city core, let alone stop neighborhood shootings. That's the sort of failure that would frustrate any mayor.

The Stark reality of Chicago is that seasons determine crime. As the weather gets warmer, more people take to the streets, tempers (literally) heat up, altercation and turf wars erupt, and violence generally peaks. Now that April has started and the mercury promises to keep rising, we will see what happens with Chicago crime. My current fear and prediction is that CPD strategies have done basically nothing. The only thing keeping crime low is the temperature (as the old joke goes in Chicago, Tom Skilling is the best criminologist in the city). We will hope that I am proven wrong, but I worry that the coming weeks will show otherwise.