Skip to contents
Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

‘Safety Teams,’ Security Guards And More Cops Coming To University Of Chicago As Neighbors Debate Violence Prevention Plan

City and university officials are pushing for more police after two recent murders and gunfire near campus, but some residents and students want more focus on alternatives to policing.

A Chicago Police squad car sits near Harper Avenue and 53rd Street in Hyde Park on Nov. 10, 2021, a day after a midday shooting occurred at the corner.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
  • Credibility:

HYDE PARK — As the University of Chicago ramps up security in Hyde Park, groups of Chicago police officers and campus security guards will be dispatched to bolster the added cops regularly patrolling the area, officials said this week.

The details emerged from a public safety meeting Wednesday hosted by Alds. Leslie Hairston (5th) and Sophia King (4th), one of several in the aftermath of recent violence in the neighborhood which prompted demands to improve safety.

Six Chicago police officers are patrolling high-traffic areas in the 2nd District, which includes Hyde Park, and Supt. David Brown repeated a pledge to add up to 20 more as recruits finish training. The added officers would be assigned permanent footposts — walking a set of blocks as their full-time job — but didn’t specify how many of the two dozen would be assigned footposts and where.

Deputy Chief Fred Melean said they’ve also added a police car on 53rd Street that is “always manned” and whose “sole purpose is to be a high visibility patrol on 53rd Street.”

Five community safety teams will be in Hyde Park, and more surveillance technology — like cameras and license plate readers — can be added, Brown said.

“We didn’t have cameras on the community side, off-campus,” he said. “We want to add cameras that will wield upon the technology we utilize for crime and safety issues.”

Eric Heath, UChicago’s vice president for safety, said the university’s Safety Ambassadors program, which has trained security officers who patrol on foot and in cars, expanded into areas outside of campus this fall. They have been phasing in the contracted security officers in close partnership with their parent company, Allied Universal, he said. 

Heath did not specify how many or where the additional security guards would be deployed. He said the guards will not be armed and are all subject to a six-month orientation program that includes mental health and first aid training. 

The officers will be “an extra set of eyes and ears” for city and campus police, Heath said.

“They will closely align with CPD and UCPD beats, providing vehicular controls in UCPD’s extended patrol areas and also foot patrols in high pedestrian traffic areas,” he said.

Longer term, Heath said he plans to add more officer to the campus police force, already one of the largest private police forces in the country.

“We are a large university police department when you compare it to most university agencies, but with our responsibilities and extended area, I would argue we’re not as large as we need to be, so we have asked for additional long-term UCPD staffing … so we’re not pulling our beat officers from the community to address issues on campus,” Heath said. 

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Ald. Sophia King (4th) speaks at a press conference near Harper Avenue and 53rd Street in Hyde Park on Nov. 10, 2021, a day after a midday shooting occurred at the corner.

The school community and residents have been mixed in their reaction. Some support the changes — even issuing an open letter insisting on “dramatically increased surveillance” — while others have urged leaders to consider violence prevention that does not involve policing.

In response to discussions about young people committing carjackings, resident Erica Nanten, who works with young people affected by gun violence, pushed back against the idea of adding more police as a solution.

“If the only way we can keep 10-year-olds from carjacking is to have police encampments, then we have failed those children,” Nanten said at the meeting. “We can’t normalize that. That cannot become our lives. It’s just unreal.”

Hairston agreed, suggesting she and King should hold another meeting to focus on alternatives to policing and issues that can lead to gun violence, like poverty and community divestment. 

“That’s where a lot of our budget this year, our talk of billions of dollars, are going to,” King said. “We do need help in specifically gearing those resources, so we welcome that.”

Sydney Ward, who lives in the area and works for the university’s professional education department, asked where officials stood on community members who “are not looking for more investments in police, and instead investments in those resources that address the root causes of crime?”

Although Brown pledged to increase police presence, he acknowledged it’s not the only solution to keep people safe.  

“Even though we’re not spending a lot of time on those other aspects of safety, we just want to focus on what our role is as law enforcement while we also acknowledge safety also means dealing with poverty, dealing with employment, dealing with other social services as some of the root causes of crime and public disorder,” he said. 

Subscribe to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation. 

Thanks for subscribing to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods. Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation.

Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: