Few incidents of violent crime involving Divvy bikes in Hyde Park, but much online discussion

Divvy Bikes await riders near the Divvy Bikes station located on the south east corner of South Lake Park Avenue and East 56th Street, Sunday, July 29, 2018. -Marc Monaghan

Staff Writer

After five years in operation and 15 million rides, Divvy, Chicago’s bike-sharing service, has been the subject of recent controversy. The Chicago Tribune reports that the program is upgrading its docks to which customers return the blue bikes after using them in order to avoid harsh fines after a spate of thefts, and headlines of crimes involving the bikes have been in the news throughout the summer.

A Freedom of Information Act request from the Herald to the Chicago Police Department filed on July 19 about incidents of crime involving Divvy bikes in Hyde Park–Kenwood beats returned three instances. Another incident occurred earlier this month; another occurred last week:

● On Aug. 26 at 3:50 p.m., a 15-year-old suspect on a bicycle stole a purse from a woman on the sidewalk at 5101 S. Woodlawn Ave. UCPD officers located and detained a suspect who had possession of the victim’s cell phones and directed them to the victim’s purse. The Chicago Police arrested the suspect and released him after the victim declined to press charges.

● On Aug. 15 at 1:30 a.m., two victims, a man and a woman in their early 20s, were walking on the 5400 South block of Harper Avenue when two suspects approached them on Divvy bikes, displayed a handgun and demanded property. After the victims complied, the offenders fled in a gray sedan.

● On June 25 at 11:31 p.m., a 23-year-old victim was walking home to his apartment 5400 South block of Harper Avenue when three suspects who had been following him on Divvy bikes robbed him at the entrance. For fear of the apartment building’s security cameras, the robbers stole $40 in cash from the victim and left him uninjured. Police suspended the case pending new investigative leads.

● On June 3 at 6:53 p.m., police responded to a call of a stolen Divvy bike near the pedestrian bridge at 5000 S. Lake Shore Dr. W. Police called Divvy, who said it would be picked up within an hour. The Divvy bike was inventoried.

● On May 5 at 3:43 a.m., a victim found that alarms had been triggered and $200 worth of power tools were missing from a house on the 5600 South block of University Avenue. Video footage of the property showed the offender leaving the rear yard on a Divvy bike with a bucket of tools. Police suspended the case pending new investigative leads.

When asked in July about Divvy bike theft or use otherwise over the course of crimes, a Divvy spokeswoman called and offered no comment except to say that crimes happen that involve many means of transportation.

In a “Good Neighbors” discussion forum for Hyde Park–Kenwood residents hosted on Google Groups, however, there have been a series of posts about incidents of crime and nuisances that have at times leaned into discussions of racial stereotyping.

A chain that began on June 21 discussed a scary incident in which four black teenagers on Divvy bikes pulled open a motorist’s vehicle door before the victim drove away. The victim said he saw a similar incident earlier that week.

Discussion shifted to the question of racial profiling when another poster wrote about seeing “four black youth” littering after eating take-out — with no mention of Divvy bikes. Another poster emailed about having seen a black teenager biking on Hyde Park Boulevard on a Divvy “in the middle of the day, and by himself.”

“No one was with him,” he said, “and I thought that a bit odd.”

Pastor Charlene Hill of the United Church of Hyde Park, 1448 E. 53rd St., who was concerned about the societal assumption of criminality among black men decided to hold a community meeting about it.

“I think that Hyde Parkers are concerned about crime and their community being safe,” she said. “I think there were those two emerging roads, and I still am not sure how well they hear each other.”

The meeting returned these recommendations:

● Try to describe a crime scene with objective accurate language; for instance, “10 males” as opposed to “a gang of black boys.”

● To be “aware of our present political climate and how certain words can be insensitive — gang, racist, etc.”

● “Less labeling and more ownership of how you are experiencing certain post.”

● Talk to others instead of making a judgement. Try to be a neighbor.

● Have compassion for those who have been victimized.