September 14, 2010 02:41 PM
BGA Probe Shows Crime on CTA up 26% since 2006
Thefts and robberies have risen dramatically on CTA buses, trains and L platforms in the last four years -- and are on the rise again this year.
By Mary Wisniewski/Sun-Times
The number of robberies was up 77 percent between 2006 and 2009, and thefts were up 17 percent.
Overall, crime on the CTA has risen by more than 26 percent since 2006, according to data obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times and the Better Government Association.
The number of crimes on the CTA has risen each of the last four years -- from 1,538 in 2006 to 1,942 in 2009, Chicago Police Department data show.
And that trend continues this year, with crime on the CTA on pace to be up 12 percent -- even though ridership rose just 0.4 percent in the first six months of 2010 compared with the same period last year.
"People tend to get engrossed in their phones or their iPods and not pay attention," said Noelle Gaffney, a CTA spokeswoman, noting a jump in thefts of electronic devices.
Despite the increase in robberies, Gaffney said the CTA is a "very safe system."
The number of aggravated assaults and batteries on CTA buses, the L and L platforms is on pace to dip from last year. The most recent murder on the CTA was in 2008, when Julian High School senior Kiyanna Salter was shot after two men got in an argument and started shooting on a bus on 71st Street in Grand Crossing.
The year before, another Julian student was killed on a bus, when a reputed gang member opened fire, killing Blair Holt, 16, the son of a Chicago Police officer.
Downtown, Near North worst
But other types of crimes remain a problem.
Like pickpocketing. That's what happened to Jim Oldenburg. Riding a crowded Lawrence Avenue bus in May, Oldenburg became the victim of a classic pickpocket maneuver -- one man stepped on his foot to distract him, while an accomplice slipped Oldenburg's wallet from his back pocket.
"I imagine they look for times when they know the train or the bus is going to be supercrowded," said Oldenburg, 57, who lives in the Mayfair neighborhood on the Northwest Side. "There's going to be ripe pickings."
The most frequent target areas for CTA crimes: downtown and the Near North Side. The attraction is obvious: crowds, with tourists and locals often too wrapped up in their iPods or reading to pay attention.
L stops such as Jackson -- where riders can connect between the Blue and Red lines -- and Roosevelt -- with connections to the Orange, Green and Red lines -- seem to be particularly popular with thieves, according to Michael Fuentes, national director of the Guardian Angels volunteer crime-fighting group. The police did not provide crime data at specific L stops.
Cameras and more cameras
Gaffney said the CTA has put up posters and fliers cautioning riders to pay attention to their surroundings. A poster campaign last year warned about pickpockets.
Now, the CTA is working on a new poster, aimed at making riders aware that electronic devices are often targeted by thieves, who frequently single out people sitting or standing near the door of an L or bus, so they can snatch an iPod or other device, then make a quick escape.
"You have to pay attention; you have to put your laptop away," said Fuentes. "If you have that much work, maybe you shouldn't be on the train -- maybe you should still be at work."
The CTA also has added more security cameras. It already had cameras on all buses, has added at least one camera to every L stop and plans to use federal Homeland Security funds to put multiple cameras at all L stops by year's end. Also, the CTA is testing new L cars equipped with cameras and is aiming to get cameras on older L cars, as well.
Cameras have helped make arrests, Gaffney said. Just last week, a Berwyn man was charged with battery, accused of groping a woman at the Blue Line LaSalle Street station. Torrence Ivy, 22, was arrested after his picture, captured by a CTA camera, was sent out on a police alert.
But cameras have their limits. The footage is usually recorded over in a day or two. So the police have to ask for it right away -- or lose it.
Oldenburg said he reported his theft to the CTA and the police immediately, but nothing came of it.
"I got the impression when I talked to these guys at the CTA that I was intruding on their time," said Oldenburg.
Asked about Oldenburg's complaint, the CTA ended up taking unspecified disciplinary action against a garage manager for failing to follow up, according to Gaffney, who said the police did not request security video of the theft.
Crime on the CTA makes an impact on riders, said McLean Fletcher, 24, of Irving Park. She said she rides the CTA less often since she was robbed last summer. She said a woman across the aisle on the L kept looking at her and pointing -- but Fletcher didn't know what it was about. She later realized that her wallet was stolen and that the woman had been trying to warn her but was afraid to speak up.
"I've become much more cautious about throwing my bag on my shoulder when I'm standing -- I put it in front of me," said Fletcher. "I feel a lot safer with my car."
Crime on the CTA
Number of crimes committed on CTA buses, trains and L platforms: