U of C officials advise caution on street

By Elizabeth Ptacek

Students are urged to exercise common sense in response to a recent spate of robberies in Hyde Park. On September 26, the University released a Security Alert to warn students that a larger percentage of robberies were taking place in the daylight hours. Last week, two University students were robbed in close proximity to dormitories. While the South East Chicago Commission (SECC) compiles statistics for the month of September, officials advise students not to walk alone after dark.

“It’s been our experience that most of the robberies occur after darkness,” said Bob Mason, executive director of the SECC. “If you walk with another person, statistics bear that you’re safer and certainly taking the University buses is safer than walking on the street by yourself.”

The University offers bus routes and a late night van service. In addition, students can call the University Police to make use of their umbrella service. In the umbrella service, a police officer will arrive to drive alongside the student while he or she walks home.

Despite the University’s efforts to provide safe alternatives, many students continue to walk alone. Judith Fay, a second-year in the College, was robbed early last week while walking alone. “I was simply walking from the Reynolds Club to the Maclean house around 10 to eight on Tuesday,” she said. “I am not naïve or unaware of my surroundings — in fact, every time I heard a person behind me, I would stop and let them pass by.”

The offender, who was waiting behind a dumpster, was not visible to Fay until he approached her from behind. “The first clue I had as to his presence was when he asked, ‘Have you ever been face to face with a shot gun?'” she said. “At this point, I turned around, saw what looked to be the sawed off barrel of a gun, but could have been a pipe. It really doesn’t matter. It scared me, and I gave him what he asked for: my money.”

Fay immediately told the security official at Maclean who called the police. According to Mason, the University Police have been notified of a number of robberies in the past few weeks. “The U of C Police are working with the Chicago Police,” Mason said. “Everyone is aware of the recent increase in robberies in the communities and they’ve been making some arrests.”

Last weekend, the University Police arrested four individuals for robbery, and they have taken measures to heighten security. “We have increased University coverage particularly in the evenings when most of these incidents have occurred,” said Hank Webber, the vice president of community affairs.

The University is also working to improve the emergency phone system. These white phones are scattered throughout the neighborhood in strategic areas. When students pick up an emergency phone, they are put directly in touch with a University Police dispatcher. Within two minutes, a University Police car should arrive on the scene.

“It is extraordinarily useful if folks who are victims of crimes go to the phones and let us know immediately,” Webber said. “The probability of solving these crimes is highest if the police are notified immediately.”

The University is currently working to increase the visibility of emergency phones by repainting them and adding lights to some of them. According to Mason, it also pays to keep an eye on community alerts and bulletins. “We encourage students and others in the community to look in the paper,” he said. “That keeps them up to date on where the robberies are occurring and at what time of day. It’s also a good way for us to keep the community informed.”

Student Government (SG) is also taking strides to improve security on campus. “For the first time, we will have a committee and executive committee position devoted entirely to working on improving campus security,” said SG President Ben Aderson. “All students are welcome to join this committee.”

For Fay, recent experiences have underscored the value of the University’s security resources. “Hyde Park is statistically one of the safest Chicago neighborhoods, but that doesn’t mean students should not use common sense,” she said. “The University has provided several resource options for safe travel on campus and I am now a big proponent of these resources — namely, the escort service.”