SECC reports crime down 14% for 2002

By Isaac Wolf

Acts of crime in Hyde Park have declined steadily over the last five years, largely the result of an improved relationship between the police forces of the University and the city of Chicago. According to the South East Chicago Commission’s (SECC) final report of 2002, the overall crime rate dropped 14 percent from 1998. Other reasons for the decline include community renovations and a citywide decline in crime.

Hank Webber, vice president of community affairs for the University, said the decline was due to a closer relationship between University and community law enforcement officials, in which the two entities collaborated to use “targeted strategies” to pinpoint crime patterns.

“The cooperation between the University of Chicago and the city police has always been strong, and now it’s stronger,” he said. “The level of cooperation on a day-to-day basis and their continuous work together over time has combined to reduce the overall level of crime.”

Webber, who rejected rumors that the University police force is the second largest in the world, said that another factor in crime reduction has been the University force’s increased domain.

“Part of the question you face is what is the campus,” Webber said. “Is the Midway part of campus? Technically no, but campus is on both sides of it. The expansion of the University Police to Woodlawn has helped addressed this.”

Bob Mason, executive director of the SECC, explained that the relationship between the two forces has been “fine-tuned” over the past several years.

“When we see a pattern of crime develop in the neighborhood, both the University of Chicago police and the Chicago city police work on it together until, hopefully, they contain it,” he said.

Among the report’s findings were a 57 percent drop in aggravated assault and a 23 percent drop in violent crime. Property crimes and robberies–often the primary statistics when examining crime patterns–dropped 12 and 10 percent, respectively.

Mason also pointed to the renovation in the Kenwood and Woodlawn communities as important factors in the decrease, noting that in 1952, when the SECC began to track crime, Hyde Park had the second highest community crime rate in the city of Chicago.

“The housing stock here was deplorable–the buildings were dilapidated and run down,” he said. “It’s very important that the buildings are up to code so that you can attract good tenants. That’s the key to lowering crime.”

Mason is weary of comparing the crime level in Hyde Park to that of other neighborhoods, explaining that community differences–such as whether a neighborhood was predominantly residential or business–would translate into different crime levels.

Rudy Nimocks, executive director of the University police department, concurred with Mason and Webber’s assessment that the University and city police departments are working together closely, emphasizing that crimes sprees perpetrated by a single offender can often skew crime statistics for an entire community.

Nimocks, who estimated the University police force to have 115 part- and full-time officers, also said that it is difficult to predict if the downward trend will continue.

“The Chicago police [are] trying to find strategies to curtail the level of crime,” Nimocks said. “Our primary mission is to prevent crime and often times, that prevention comes by catching single people.”

While Nimocks is uncertain as to what will happen to the crime rate, Mason predicted that it will continue to decline. He said that while there is always a realistic minimum level of crime for a community to endure, Hyde Park has not yet reached that low point.

To him, the community needs to continue to work closely with law officials to keep each other informed of the pressing issues.

“We’re not satisfied,” Mason said. “We need to keep doing what we’re doing; when you work with the police you see that they really appreciate it. Everyone’s out there working to reduce crime and that is what really shows in the statistics.”