January 31, 2006

Admin responds to hike in crime

On the heels of a Chicago Police Department (CPD) review of crime in its 77 neighborhoods, members of the University community received a critical update from Hank Webber, vice president of community and government affairs, in a January 26 e-mail letter sent to students.

In his letter to the community, Webber focused on the “spike” in violent crime throughout Hyde Park toward the latter part of 2005.

“This is a genuine concern for the entire community,” said Bob Mason, executive director of the South East Chicago Commission (SECC), a community organization that monitors crime. According to Mason, the end of 2005 marked “the first double-digit increase in violent crime since 1996.”

Webber noted that action has been taken to resolve safety concerns in “a number of ways,” including the addition of three UCPD patrols in the area, plans to improve campus lighting at night, and the arrests of two men involved in a string of December carjackings and numerous robberies that occurred in September and October 2005.

Two of the added UCPD patrols, which include both uniformed and plainclothes officers, are on the 4 to 12 p.m. shift, and one is on the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift, according to Webber.

Webber added that the increased patrols would cost the University “a little over $200,000 annually,” and that “a great deal of overtime coverage” has been set aside for the campaign.

Regarding plans to improve campus lighting, Webber said that administrators have initiated a “full review of those areas of campus which members of the University community and our police believe should be brighter.”

He added that he has received numerous responses from people pointing out areas of major concern, both on and off campus. “Many in the University community are also concerned about lighting in the neighborhood,” he said.

In its annual report of crime in Chicago’s 77 neighborhood communities, Chicago Police highlighted an increase in sexual assault as the city’s most troubling statistic. The number of reported sexual assaults in Hyde Park measured lower than many of the city’s 77 neighborhoods in 2005. Hyde Park recorded seven rapes last year at a rate of 1.17 attacks per 5,000 people, according to CPD statistics.

Kenwood witnessed 10 sexual assaults at a rate comparable to that of Hyde Park, but reports from the South Shore and Woodlawn neighborhoods pointed to more serious statistics. There were 50 rapes reported in South Shore last year—double the rate of attacks in Hyde Park—and Woodlawn’s 27 sexual assaults (at a rate of 5 attacks per 5,000 people) made it the 10th worst neighborhood in Chicago for incidence of rape.

The SECC reported that in 2004, Hyde Park witnessed 821 incidents of violent crime per 100,000 people, a statistic well below the citywide rate of 1,270 attacks per 100,000 people.

“We’re always hopeful,” said Mason. “This year we’re starting out on a good foot, but it’s obviously very early.”

Webber emphasized that despite concerns of increased crime, Hyde Park remains one of the safest places to live in Chicago.

“Despite the increase in violent crime in 2005, Hyde Park–South Kenwood remains among the safest City of Chicago neighborhoods,” said Webber in his letter. “Our violent crime rate for last year was 26 percent below the City of Chicago average.” He added that levels of property crime in 2005 fell six percent compared to 2004, marking a record low.

Looking at the year ahead, Mason said he remains optimistic about the uphill battle against crime in Hyde Park. “We’re being proactive,” he said. “We don’t know what the bad guys are going to do.”