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Crime decreasing in Hyde Park neighborhood

A University of Chicago Police Department squad car sits parked on the University's Hyde Park campus. Photo courtesy of DNAinfo Chicago.
A University of Chicago Police Department squad car sits parked on the University’s Hyde Park campus. Photo courtesy of DNAinfo Chicago.

When Vicky Stavropoulos moved to Hyde Park two years ago to attend the University of Chicago, she received many warnings from teachers and students about crime in the area.

But Stavropoulos says she doesn’t hesitate to walk the mile between class and her apartment, with her headphones in for most of her walk, despite being advised against it.

“Coming to school here, everyone was like ‘Oh, yeah, you need to be careful,’” Stravropolis said, reflecting on her first few months at the university. “It kind of creates this culture.”

Stavropoulos was one of a few people interviewed Wednesday about crime in Hyde Park. While participants said they typically feel safe in the neighborhood, most said they take precautions such as traveling in groups and paying attention to their surroundings.

The neighborhood, with a population of nearly 26,000, is often portrayed as a dangerous area. But violent crime has been reduced by nearly 60 percent since 2005, according to a report issued by the University of Chicago.

There were five reports of violent crime in the neighborhood between Jan. 24 and Feb. 25, including two robberies and three batteries, two of which took place on the streets, according to the Chicago Tribune. Property crime rates in Hyde Park during this time totaled 22 reports, including 18 thefts, three car thefts and one burglary, the Tribune reported.

Despite the decrease, serious incidents of violent crime are still being reported in the area as recently as a few weeks ago.

In early March an East Hyde Park man was charged with aggravated battery against a 3-week-old girl who later died, authorities said. The man, 28-year-old Jose Garcia, was held in lieu of a $400,000 bond during a Cook County Criminal Court hearing, according to court records.

The victim, Rachel Garcia, was pronounced dead at Comer Children’s Hospital, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

Another serious incident occurred in 2009, when a University of Chicago student was shot to death during a robbery. The incident took place on the 6100 block of Ellis, and five men were arrested and prosecuted in connection with the shooting.

Neighboring community Kenwood drew worldwide attention in January 2013 when Hadiya Pendleton, 15, was shot and killed just a week after participating in President Barack Obama’s second inaugural ceremony. The gang-related shooting happened a mile away from the president’s home.

In comparison to surrounding neighborhoods, Hyde Park is on the low-end with reports of violent crime, tying with neighboring community Kenwood at No. 39 among Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods. Washington Park and Woodlawn share the No. 9 ranking, while Grand Boulevard stands at No. 14.

Stavropoulos said the police presence in the area has contributed to her sense of security.

“I know there’s going to be police on every block,” she said. “Even closer to campus there are literally security guards that are standing around 24 hours a day.”

The University of Chicago, ranked among the top five universities in the country, enrolls 5,700 students, according to the University registrar.

While Stavropoulos hasn’t been a victim of crime, she said she has many friends who have been around the neighborhood.

She also hears about incidents from security reports issued by the university.

The area is patrolled by police officers from the Chicago Police Department and the University of Chicago Police Department, which covers an area of three square miles, from 37th street south to 64th street, according to Robert Mason, a crime analyst with the University of Chicago Police Department. He also said the university’s department includes 100 officers, who patrol in cars, on foot and on bikes.

According to Mason, the most common crime in the area is theft of electronic devices or items from parked cars. Mason also said most of the people arrested in Hyde Park are not residents and come from other parts of Chicago or the suburbs.

Jim Drew, a Kenwood resident, practices as a social worker at his Hyde Park office. Drew, who has lived in the area for 32 years, said his car has been broken into twice.

He also said he once stopped a man who was trying to steal his daughter’s bike while she was riding it.

Drew said Hyde Park is a safe area, as long as residents are “street wise”, adding that caution after dark is particularly necessary.

“You don’t go out without your dog, and you don’t go out by yourself if you’re a woman,” Drew said.

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