Content warning: loss of life, violence
Following the killing of two high school students near the Illinois Tech campus in late September, public safety organizations with jurisdiction over the victims’ school moved quickly to secure the surrounding outdoor space during times of day when students were present. The Youth Connection Leadership Academy (YCLA), located inside the building at 3424 South State Street between IIT Tower and Crown Hall, quickly became a focus point for campus safety conversations. Immediate shifts were made in the resources of Illinois Tech Public Safety, the Chicago Police Department (CPD)’s second district, and YCLA’s own private security with the intent of preventing further violence by establishing a visible law enforcement presence when YCLA let out each weekday afternoon.
While some observers have considered such a heavy presence of security agencies to be draconian, those agencies’ fears seem to have been reinforced somewhat in recent weeks. On Tuesday, October 9 and again on Wednesday, October 10, anonymous calls were made to YCLA threatening to bomb the alternative school or to attack it with guns.
The first time such a call was made (in the form of a generic bomb threat), CPD itself did not send an officer to Illinois Tech until 15 minutes after the initial call of a threat was logged and did not have team members on hand to sweep the building for explosives until about half an hour after the first police units arrived. Illinois Tech Public Safety immediately ordered an evacuation of IIT Tower upon learning of the threat around 1:00 p.m., but rescinded that order quickly as a miscommunication while keeping an evacuation order for 3424 South State Street active until CPD’s inspection of the building was complete. From that time the bomb threat was made to the time that the building was re-opened, an hour had passed.
The exact nature of the Tuesday call went unreported, but the following day’s threat was quoted word-by-word in a police communications recording created by Eric Tendian, an Illinois Tech alumni who runs crime and police activity tracking website CrimeIsDown.com. At 1:07 p.m. that day, a caller claimed that they were headed toward YCLA on a train to “come shoot the school up” because “they let they homies die,” likely referencing the killings that occurred two weeks prior. This led to a more coordinated response than the incident the day before, with CPD units stationed at the Green Line and Red Line to monitor incoming foot traffic. This time, people inside of 3424 South State Street were told to shelter in place rather than evacuate, and nobody was permitted to enter the building. Again, the lockdown ended after about an hour of police activity, with doors re-opening just before 2:00 p.m.
Responding to an inquiry from TechNews about this agency’s approach to the recent challenges associated with YCLA, Illinois Tech Public Safety issued the following statement:
“Part of our public safety strategy is maneuvering patrol officers when statistics show a pattern of activity in certain areas. The incidents over the past few weeks have directed our focus during the mid-afternoon hours when the YCLA students are released for the day. You'll see an increased visibility around the intersections of 35th and State and 35th and Federal, for example. You may also see an increased presence of CPD officers in the area at that time as well. The focused patrols by our team will be in place for the foreseeable future.”
CPD itself has not responded to TechNews requests for comments on its own approach to the developments in the vicinity of 35th Street & State Street, but some of its officers have heavily patrolled the same area of 35th Street discussed in Illinois Tech Public Safety’s statement since the shooting in September. It is unclear how long those increased CPD patrols will last.
Photo by Soren Spicknall (He/him)