May 20, 2003

Spree of robberies raises safety concerns in Hyde Park

A string of robberies in a section of Hyde Park known for its relative safety and close proximity to campus has caused community members to reconsider the general level of security in the neighborhood.

The rectangle comprising the area from the 5400 block of Dorchester to the 5600 block of Kimbark has experienced five weekend robberies since May 2, all between 10:30 p.m. and 11:15 p.m. The victims have been approached on the street by one or two offenders, whom authorities suspect to have perpetrated several, if not all, of the robberies, as well as one dating back to April 15.

The suspects, two black males in their 20s, have worn hooded sweatshirts in each of the robberies. According to documents from the South East Chicago Commission, an organization that tracks crime in Hyde Park and surrounding neighborhoods, one of the offenders has kept his hand in his pocket during robberies to imply that he has a weapon.

The two offenders have used a getaway car, described as a late-model vehicle that is painted gray and has a loud exhaust system. According to one witness, the driver's side trim strip was hanging loose.

The recent increase in crime has been met with "additional resources" by the police force, according to Rudy Nimocks, head of the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD). Nimocks said that at least three of the robberies can be attributed to the two suspects and that the UCPD has a few leads of who they are. Nimocks said that he could not comment further on these leads, calling them uncertain.

"This is a specific pattern of street robberies. We're collaborating with the city in an effort to stop [it]," Nimocks said, adding that extra officer patrolling has been assigned to the specific street corners of the robberies.

While robbery is common in Hyde Park, the string of crimes in this area--considered to be more upscale than some other parts of the community--has caught some community members by surprise.

Before spring quarter, Jake Raden, a third-year in the College, did not personally know of anyone in Hyde Park who had been mugged. Since then, Raden, who lives on 57th Street and Blackstone--near the area of the crime pattern--has had a friend mugged at gunpoint. He has also stumbled into the aftermath of an attempted robbery at a local Subway.

"This area has always been hailed as a much safer neighborhood [than others in Hyde Park], but even that is not necessarily so true anymore," Raden said. "I've never heard about anyone getting mugged in this neighborhood of Hyde Park in my year-and-a-half here. And now I've heard about these two."

Raden attributes the crime increase to less late-night police street patrolling on the weekends. Instead of watching the community, Raden said, police have increased their energies on stopping undergraduate gatherings.

"There's been a whole hell of a lot more police activity at student parties," Raden said. "The increase in police presence at parties has come so fast, so violently" that the streets of Hyde Park are often left unprotected, he said.

In the last month, each of the robberies reported in this string has occurred on a Friday or Saturday night.

"They're harassing students," Raden said. "If they stop one or two parties every night, that's a lot of police tied up. Hyde Park is not a big neighborhood and we don't have that many police. I'm not an expert on the police force, so I could definitely be wrong, but this would have to make a difference."

Nimocks denied the claim that the UCPD has increased activity at campus parties, instead attributing the increase in crime to the spring climate.

"There are more people on the street during warmer weather so there are more opportunities for criminality," Nimocks said.

The recent increase in crime has not made Raden more worried about his own safety, though it has made him concerned for that of his female friends. Raden added, however, that he now drives more frequently.

"It definitely seems like there's a lot more crime these days," he said.