Hyde Park burglaries increase during Chicago crime upswing

By Hassan S. Ali

The Chicago Police Department (CPD) announced Friday that crime in Chicago was 11.7 percent greater in January of 2006 than in January of 2005, putting a damper on a celebrated 6.7 percent drop in crime for 2005.

For District 21, where much of Hyde Park is located, CPD statistics have specifically cited robbery and burglary as the most significantly increased types of crimes in the neighborhood, with drops in theft and criminal sexual assault.

“There has been a sharp increase in reported burglaries throughout Hyde Park-–South Kenwood since the beginning of November,” said Duel Richardson, director of neighborhood relations in the Office of the Vice President of the University, in a February 14 e-mail letter to the University’s Safety Awareness listhost.

According to CPD statistics, in 2005 District 21 saw a 10.3 percent increase over 2004 in burglaries, higher than the city average of 3.1 percent. CPD reports indicate a monthly average of about 42 robberies in Hyde Park between January and July 2005. From August to December 2005, that average jumped to 77 robberies per month, prompting increased attention from University administrators like Richardson. Overall, 683 robberies were reported in Hyde Park last year, ranking sixth in the city for the largest increase in burglary.

Chris Steele, a 2005 U of C graduate who lives in a Hyde Park apartment near campus, said that his building has seen a number of break-ins over the recent months.

“In one case someone just walked into one of the second floor apartments—the door was unlocked—and took [their] laptop while they weren’t there,” Steele said.

“The apartment across the hall from us has been broken into at least twice since Thanksgiving,” he said, referring to an incident in which one of his neighbors was present and personally encountered the intruder during a December 30 break-in.

“We are monitoring the situation extremely closely,” said Hank Webber, vice-president of community and government affairs, in response to the December 30 incident. “We have added very considerable coverage in the immediate Hyde Park area, including three additional patrols.”

John McGarry of real-estate management company K&G Management echoed Webber’s emphasis on heightened police activity to combat the rising frequency of area burglaries. “The neighborhood is definitely better,” McGarry said, adding that an increased presence of U of C Police Department and CPD officers has been helpful but “for some reason” unable to thwart more robberies.

“This has been a terrible year,” McGarry said. “But the reality is that if a guy wants to come through, he’s coming through.” McGarry added that other Hyde Park real estate management companies have seen just as many robberies as K&G has in recent months.

K&G residents such as Steele have cited an “ongoing squabble” with the company, specifically regarding the security and integrity of his building’s front entrance.

“[The lock and door arm] is fairly solid now but there was an extended period of time last quarter when a solid nudge was all it took to have access to the entire building,” Steele said. “Still, it didn’t help matters that some visitors and party-goers interpreted the shoddy security as some sort of carte blanche and mulishly kept trying to force the lock after it was fixed.”

McGarry insists that K&G has taken every measure to prevent and deter future robberies, including an overhaul of the faulty door lock system at building entrances.

“We’re doing everything we can do,” McGarry said. “We’ve replaced a tremendous amount of locks and installed [locks] that are more difficult to pry through.”

McGarry also pointed to reenforced security on windows, especially those near doors, and said that K&G has recently decided to disconnect buzzers that allow residents in their apartment units to unlock the front door, potentially giving unwelcome visitors access to the building. McGarry emphasized compliance with city building regulations concerning additional security measures.

“Students are very trusting and will often let people in without even checking,” McGarry said, citing this as the reason why many Hyde Park burglaries occur in predominantly student-inhabited buildings.

“A lot of people don’t lock their doors, and people have to do all they can to keep themselves safe,” McGarry said. “It’s a tragedy when things like this happen.”

After its recent analysis of crime, CPD officials insisted that any increase in crime would not put a damper on their commitment to uphold Chicago’s 14-year-long record of lowered crime.

“The numbers released today reflect only a short time frame…and represent a relatively small number of incidents,” said CPD Deputy Supt. Charles Williams in a February 17 press release. “As the year continues, we anticipate these percentages will come down and be more in keeping with the trends of the past several years.”