Arresting Tales

CTA crime on the increase

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Two stories caught my attention this morning, both relating to an increase in reported crime on the CTA.

First, the CTA Tattler reports that pickpocket thefts are up on both trains and buses, with pickpocket thefts on buses increasing by 54%.  He also makes a plea for passengers to do their part by remaining alert and awake while traveling on the CTA, in order to avoid having your pants pocket sliced open and your wallet removed.

It turns out that pickpockets aren't the only crime issue facing the CTA, but are part of an overall increase in crime.   According to figures obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times and the Better Government Association:

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...

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.


Most troublesome is the increase in robberies, from 246 in 2006 to 435 in 2009.  Currently the CTA is on track to hit 500 robberies in 2010.  A robbery is a theft committed by using or threatening to use force, it's an armed robbery if a weapon is used, and it's an aggravated robbery if the offender implies or indicates that he has a weapon.  Presumably all types of robberies are included in the figures appearing in the Sun-Times story

Another thing to remember is that these figures represent only reported crimes--the number of crimes committed is always significantly higher than the number of crimes reported.

There are a couple of factors driving the increase.  One, mentioned by a CTA spokesperson in the article, is the increase in thefts of portable electronic devices like smart phones and iPads.  Many people are so absorbed in their virtual digital cocoon that they forget that they are out in public, in a city, and they don't take basic steps to protect themselves and their property. 

Victims will sit poking away on a $400 iPad, oblivious to shifty-looking characters lurking nearby, and then express shock when they're robbed.  These same people wouldn't dream of sitting on an El car with four crisp $100 bills held out in front of them, but that's essentially what they're doing by not stowing their high-end electronics while on the CTA.

A second factor driving the increase is lack of police presence.  The city and the CTA can tout cameras all they want, but cameras do not deter crime--the presence of uniformed officers does.  Even when the cameras work, they're recorded over within days.  Given the length of time it takes for a detective to follow up on a theft--if it's followed up on at all, which is another manpower issue--the likelihood of a detective even asking for video before it's been recorded over is slim.

The CTA Tattler has the best advice: "...keep your guard up wherever you are riding."

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3 Comments

Kevin O'Neil said:

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Joe: Thanks for the further analysis here!

Moshucat said:

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What happened to the days when we had CTA Police riding the trains and buses? Something else Weis reorganized. Do you think the criminals don't know? I have a friend who retired last year from CPD and he made his overtime by working CTA on his days off. Again Joe I ahve to say that the National Guard could fill in in places like riding the buses and trains and patroling around schools and routes where kids are in danger walking to and riding public transit.

Wendy C said:

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It still comes down to using common sense whenever you're out in public. Protect your valuables, don't have them in plain sight while you're in mixed company. I'm often amazed when people complain how things are snatched right out of their hands. Where do you think you are, heaven?

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