NEAR WEST SIDE — Broken door locks. Dark walkways. Ineffective ID checks at student dorms.
Those are some of the problems that have contributed to a growing fear on the University of Illinois at Chicago's sprawling Near West Side campus, staff, students and community members said.
But while a recent sex assault has shaken the campus, community members — including a longtime UIC professor — said they've documented security concerns at the school for years and begged administrators to address them — often with little or no response.
"The lights have been a problem for many, many years, and it just seems to be a general disregard for safety that goes back since the campus started [in 1965]," said William O'Neill, a professor of bioengineering at UIC for 50 years. "It's the kind of stuff where you're asking for trouble."
Senior Editor Dave Newbart talks with DNAinfo Radio about security at UIC:
Between O'Neill and his two adult sons, Bob and Dennis — all of whom live in the neighborhood — dozens of photos and email correspondence threads with UIC administrators illustrate scenes of shrouded campus entrances and darkened walkways stretching back to 2007.
"The response has been fairly inadequate," William O'Neill said. "I can guarantee, you go out there tonight and you'll find 10 lights out in critical places. [The administration] just ignores it."
But UIC spokesman Bill Burton said the complaints are "more of an appearance issue than a security issue."
"This is a large campus, and it's a challenge to keep exterior lights working," Burton said. "We do our best. Given our limited resources, we triage it. We focus on the lights that are of greatest importance to security."
Burton said the school recently spent $450,000 replacing 650 lights in parking garages on Halsted and Maxwell streets and also in a green space on campus near Taylor and Morgan streets called the Chicago Circle Memorial Grove.
Burton denied broken locks on campus were a problem and denied the school was cavalier about safety.
"We're focused on security all the time. It's a top concern," Burton said.
UIC tightened security after a student was raped in the Commons South dorm at 700 S. Halsted St. during the daytime on March 31, but student residents of the dorm said the university should have done more to check who was allowed into campus buildings.
While students were supposed to use IDs to swipe card readers to get in, students said no one checked to make sure that was done, or to make sure students didn't bring in friends or hold the door for others outside the main entrance to the dorm rooms until after 7 p.m.
"Honestly, I wasn't surprised at all," Sheryl Mathews, a 21-year-old Commons South resident, said of the break-in and sexual assault, allegedly by Tavares Humphries, 28, a registered sex offender who had no affiliation with UIC. "It's so easy for people to walk in and do what they want to. [The school] should work on hiring more staff."
After the attack, UIC changed the locations of security staff and required students sign in guests to the dorm at all times, Burton said. While no ID was necessary to enter the common spaces of Commons South Thursday, a staff member sat next to a key-card reader to ensure students swiped their IDs allowing them to enter hallways leading to student rooms.
The changes appear to have made the dorm safer, said a 19-year-old freshman who lived in Commons South, where the rape occurred, but has since moved out.
Humphries allegedly broke into the student's room and stole several of her things before he allegedly assaulted the other student, but he was caught after witnesses heard her screams and came to her aid. Humphries has been charged with five felonies, including attempted murder.
"My room was completely smashed," she told DNAinfo Chicago. "I had just come back from spring break. He went through all my drawers, all over my room. I was scared after that because I was alone — I was totally scared."
UIC has not said how Humphries allegedly got inside the building.
The O'Neills stopped short of speculating whether the sexual assault and robbery could have been prevented, but they said better lighting and locks clearly would make the campus safer for students and employees.
"There's no doubt in my mind that lighting is a huge deterrent in reducing crime, and that is not new information," said Bob O'Neill, a neighborhood resident for 30 years. "I've warned them many times that they're playing with fire."
UIC's own biweekly surveys of nonworking lights, conducted by UIC police, consistently document dozens of nonworking lights, records obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request show.
The exact number of lights out in each survey was unclear; in addition to reports of individual lights out over doors or entrances, the reports include reference to entire rows of nonworking lights on buildings, along walkways and above entrances or other parts of campus.
In an April 1 survey, officers counted about 100 individual lights that weren't working, but then gave four more listings where they reported that "all lights" were out in various locations.
One area outside the "Student Residence and Commons" buildings — which includes the South Commons building where the student was raped — was particularly bad.
"All lights on the north side of the atrium," the listing said. "VERY DARK AREA."
Many of these broken lights are reported repeatedly over the course of weeks and months. In at least one case, "2 lights outside the pathway from Taylor Street" were reported broken by UIC police every two weeks for nine straight months between April 2013 and January.
Dennis O'Neill — who runs the neighborhood group Connecting4Communities — did two lighting surveys of his own, in 2012 and 2013, that found results similar to what police reported.
The O'Neills have sent emails documenting security concerns to top officials, including Mark Donovan, UIC's executive director of facilities management, other administrators and campus police since 2007. That list includes streetlights out along walkways surrounding Lincoln Hall, Taft Hall, Douglas Hall, Grant Hall, Stevenson Hall, University Hall, the Behavioral Sciences Building, the UIC Pavilion, the UIC Forum, four of UIC's Lecture Centers and the UIC Theater.
Emails as recently as late January from the O'Neills also detail missing door handles, damaged locks "laying on the floor," and doors unlocked and "swinging in the breeze" in the Science and Engineering Offices — which like many buildings contain millions of dollars worth of equipment and data.
The correspondence between Donovan and the O'Neills is clearly tense at times, but in some cases their reports received no response at all. Often the men were referred to UIC police and told to file a report.
"I've warned [the administration] that it's been a big issue," Bob O'Neill said of the "cover of darkness" and other security concerns at UIC.
"There's absolutely no excuse. They just don't get how to keep lights on."