Thursday, July 25, 2013

SECURITY ALERT: Attempted carjacking at 58th and Cottage

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

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

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

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

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

Until the next, stay safe and vigilant out there.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

CRIME ALERT: Tuesday Robberies at 54th and Kimbark

Lots of work (real world job stuff, not build Magic decks and train martial arts on the Midway work) going on, so haven't been able to get as many posts as I would like. The July 4 Holiday Weekend was particularly violent in Chicago, and although Hyde Park was spared much of the mayhem, many other neighborhoods across the city felt the full brunt of the 60+ shot and 11 killed. Thank the ambulances for a lower murder rate than that; EMTs and buses alone probably saved at least 10 of those individuals from ending up on the rising homicide tally for 2013.

But as is often the case even in the well-patrolled and higher-income Hyde Park, criminals continue to make appearances around the neighborhood. The following two incidents were logged in the UCPD Incident Report for Tuesday, 7/9/2013. Approximate addresses have been linked via Google Maps so you can get a sense of where these attacks occurred.

3 Highly Questionable UCPD Incident Reports
Incident Location Date/Time
Information 5400 S. Kimbark 7/9/13
9:20 AM
9:10 AM
Two males, one armed with a handgun, took property from a man walking on the sidewalk off campus and fled in a waiting vehicle / CPD case HW354466 C00724
Information 54th between Kimbark & Kenwood (Nichols Park) 7/9/13 11:17 PM 7/9/13 11:05 PM Two unknown females forcibly took iPhone from victim walking through the park off campus / Victim not injured / CPD case C00729

Both incidents happened around Nichols Park within no more than a quarter mile of each other. It is pretty clear that the incidents themselves are unrelated, but their common location is telling. Nichols Park is one of the worst lit areas of Hyde Park after nightfall, and one of the lowest traffic areas during the day. The 11:00 PM robbery falls right inside the expected range of violent crime. The 9:00 AM attack, however, is definitely a statistical anomaly. The shared location is just the sort of place where you can get away with a crime during many hours of the day, regardless of the times or the statistics.

Nichols Park isn't a bad place, and that area of Hyde Park is actually somewhat safe. That should not diminish the need for a proper self-defense mindset. Although there might be legitimate reason to shortcut through the park, or any park really, you should always do so with the utmost vigilance. Scan the area (every ten-fifteen seconds, glance over your shoulder casually). Hold yourself in a confident manner. That doesn't mean you should puff out your chest in your Teddy Roosevelt impression itching for a brawl, but it does mean that you should look like a capable individual. Keep your phone in your pocket; if anything is so urgent as to require immediate response, park yourself somewhere, scan the area, and then attend to it. Make knowing eye contact with any pedestrians, enough to indicate your vigilance, but not enough to provoke a challenge or conversation. These good self-defense skills will probably feel like a silly waste of time for every minute of every day that you employ them... except that one fateful minute where you wish you had remember to use them better.

From a martial perspective, both of these incidents posed unique challenges to the victims. In the first case, a multiple armed opponent scenario, martial solutions were all but impossible. Giving up property was definitely the best call, especially if there was anyone accompanying the victim. In the second case, although a physical defense might have been appropriate, it is always difficult to defend against female offenders. This has nothing to do with the offenders themselves and everything to do with your own mindframe. When I train, my imagined attacker is about 6'1" and weighs 210 pounds. Many of my students probably, but not necessarily, picture a similar assailant. Many of them would find it difficult to fire off three knees to the ribcage of a 20-some year old woman. There's also a good deal of social conditioning in there ("boys don't hit girls"), conditioning that probably outweighs the training mindframe. And finally, there's the legal perspective. A male defender is going to need some good justifications (and/or a good attorney) to explain why he thought it was necessary to roundhouse kick his female attacker in the head to make her let go of her phone. It's an oversimplified analysis and entry point to a much larger issue of female/male relationships in self-defense situations, but it gets us thinking about the unique challenges of the situation.

Until next time, stay safe and stay aware. Hyde Park is a very safe neighborhood. Until it isn't. Make sure that you are ready to both avoid that chance and deal with it if it arises.

Monday, July 1, 2013

June homicide drop not significant or shared across city

June ended for Chicago with a Stanley Cup trophy, a Pride parade commemorating some major Supreme Court victories, pleasant weather, and a supposedly reduced homicide count. Although the major news publications of the city, let alone Garry and Rahm, have not yet made any announcements on the subject, you can bet that the laudatory articles are coming soon. June 2013 ended with 41 homicides, a seven year low for the historically violent month. That sounds pretty good on paper, especially given the violence reductions that we saw in both February and March earlier this year (of course, giving no mention to a January that was the most violent January for over a decade). The Mayor and the CPD would be the first to admit to the violence, countering that shootings and murders have been down since then in an unprecedented wave of new police strategies. But are homicides really down, and do we really have cause to celebrate before the summer is over?

The table below gives the total number of monthly homicides for the last 7 years. The last row gives the difference between that year's cumulative homicides and the cumulative homicides in 2013. Although Chicago has seen a strictly lower number of killings in 2013 by the same time in previous years, the  difference is neither statistically nor crimologically significant.

Chicago homicides by month: 2007-2013

2013 201220112010200920082007
January 43 402820243522
February 57 695345505543
March 73 1217576719080
April 97 162105124112137114
May 141 213144172159185149
June 182 260190226204238198
from 2013
0 +78+8+44+22+56+16

Looking at it from this perspective, 2013 doesn't look a lot better than many of the previous years. 2013, 2010, and 2008 were obviously the worst years in the population (just look at that jump from 69 total murders in February 2012 to 121 by the end of the next month!), but 2013 isn't much different from 2011 or even 2007. By the same time in 2007, we had 198 murders, a mere 16 more than we currently have. 2011 is even closer, with just 8 more killings than our city has currently seen in 2013. These tiny differences could easily be attributable to the fact that 2013 Chicago had the most rainfall on record since 1887; indeed, when we take that fact into consideration, we might be even more skeptical of a so-called murder decline.

When we look at the numbers on a neighborhood level, things only get worse. A lot worse, in the case of some community areas. The tables below highlight three communities that missed the news about Chicago's declining homicide rate. These have either remained unchanged from previous years of violence or had major upticks this year. Tables give cumulative homicide totals for each year as they add up by month.

Austin homicides by month: 2007-2013

2013 201220112010200920082007
January 2 311054
February 5 412455
March 5 64681011
April 6 947131213
May 10 1288201316
June 12 18118241617
from 2013
0 +6-1-4+12+4+5

Austin, one of three communities that you probably think of when you imagine the high-crime parts of the West Side is one of those neighborhoods where violence remains constant over time. 2013 has been better than some years and worse than others, which is alarming for two reasons. First, Austin was a neighborhood that presumably saw increased police attention in 2013, so it is not encouraging that violence could only get pushed down to 2011 levels. Second, Austin's population has been falling over this time, so violence per capita in 2013 is roughly what it was in 2008 or 2007, when adjusting for changes in population. But at least homicides have had some mobility, even if those changes weren't all positive.

Englewood homicides by month: 2007-2013

2013 201220112010200920082007
June 2 220000
February 3 241021
March 3 541064
April 3 841284
May 7 864394
June 11 10776119
from 2013
0 -1-4-4-5+0-2

Englewood is another story. We know with certainty that Englewood was a community that received heightened police attention throughout the first months of 2013. We also know that 2013 had the worst weather over the 7 year period, with snow accumulation in February and record rainfall throughout the spring. So that leaves us alarmed and puzzled as to why Englewood is riding a 7 year high in homicides, tied only with 2008, a year that saw total murders over 500. Given the national attention on Chicago violence in and around Englewood, we would expect this to be a lot lower. Admittedly, the Harper spotlight was in West Englewood, an adjacent community in which homicides have declined from previous years. But that isn't very meaningful if all the criminals just packed up and moved next door.

South Shore homicides by month: 2007-2013

2013 201220112010200920082007
June 2 310101
February 2 621101
March 4 722111
April 5 732243
May 10 846486
June 15 9775147
from 2013
0 -6-8-8-10-1-8

I have a friend in Hyde Park who sells Streetwise papers near the 57th Street restaurants. We talk about crime in his neighborhood, and he alerted me that his home of South Shore was going to be "real bad" this year. The shooting statistics from February and March suggested it, but it wasn't until May and June that the prophecy was really fulfilled. South Shore is a disaster this year. I have now spoken with three natives of the community area and all of them have confirmed what I suspected for months; gangs from Englewood, pressured by intense police scrutiny, have moved to blocks outside of the CPD targeted hot spots. That meant moving into South Shore, and that meant serious disputes over corners. One of my contacts reported seeing small groups of young men roaming the streets, men he had never before seen, looking for rival gang members to intimidate or attack. Given the weather that should have kept crime lower, let alone the police attention that would have come with an uptick in crime, these trends are disturbing.

These observations might sound depressing or alarmist, as it is so tempting to be when discussing Chicago crime. But having spoken with people on the ground, both residents and professionals, and looked over the numbers, the doom-and-gloom is supported by the evidence. It is likely that much of this violence is a direct result of increased police presence and the disruption to gang activity that comes as part of those strategies. So to some extent, you might admit that the strategies are "working". Sadly, that is no consolation for residents of these neighborhoods. And as a final word of caution, it is difficult and potentially misleading to extrapolate any conclusions from small datasets like this, especially in the volatile domain of crime statistics. But my Chicago experience and knowledge helps reinforce my dataset.

Homicides might be down, but the city's crime has not improved. When you read that inevitable article about the falling murder rate, be sure to look at it critically and to challenge those who might be swept up in the Mayor's and newscasters' rhetoric.