Thefts on CTA still top last year's total

As 2010 winds to a close, thefts on the CTA remain a big problem.

Thefts on the CTA in Chicago overall have increased 13.5% this year through November compared to the same period last year. CTA Tattler first reported this alarming trend earlier this year. Thefts on trains and buses went up 16.5% this year, with 160 more reported incidents over last year.

Last year through November there were 1,481 total thefts on the CTA, according to Chicago Police statistics reported by And this year there were 1,681, or 200 more. Theft locations tracked were CTA trains, buses, platforms, bus stops and garages or other properties.

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As many of you — as well as crime stats — have reported, thieves mainly target smartphones and iPods. These crimes are really crimes of opportunities. Thieves lurk in train and bus doorways, on the lookout for riders oblivious to their surroundings, totally caught up in the music, game or e-mail on their electronic devices.

Then it’s easy for thieves to just snatch, grab and run out the door as it closed behind them.

The proliferation of this crime is very scary and frustrating to many riders and victims. This frustration prompted one rider to start a Facebook group called “We Need Cameras on the CTA Trains NOW.” The fiance of the group owner had his iPhone stolen prompting her to start the group.

I asked the CTA about cameras on the trains and the whole subject of safety. This is what a spokesperson told me:

Cameras have long been a primary part of the CTA’s efforts to provide a safe and secure environment for its employees and customers.

Since late 2003, CTA’s entire bus fleet has been equipped with security cameras.

Presently, there are more than 1800 cameras at rail stations -at least one at every station. Thanks to grants from the Department of Homeland Security, we are in the process of installing additional cameras at stations.

Due to a fiber optic cable link established between the CTA and the Office of Emergency Management and Communication in 2005, live images from CTA rail stations can be viewed by the OEMC/ Chicago Police Department.

CTA’s current rail cars do not have security cameras; however, the agency is in the midst of a pilot to determine the feasibility of retrofitting the current fleet cars with cameras. The pilot is evaluating the level of complexity involved in installing equipment in older cars and the ability to integrate the video system into CTA’s existing video management system. Data gathered from the pilot will determine the final scope of installation across the fleet and outline the parameters for the performance of the equipment on each rail car series. The FTA is funding the pilot and Department of Homeland Security funding is available to retrofit of a portion of the existing fleet once we work out all the technical issues.

In addition, as has previously been announced, the CTA is ordering new rail cars for the first time in nearly 20 years. The new rail cars will come equipped with cameras. The prototypes of these cars are undergoing testing to determine how they perform when operating in the conditions that CTA’s rail fleet is subject to throughout the year. Testing is scheduling to run through the spring. The cars must successfully complete testing before the CTA will finalize the order of the remaining 396 rail cars so until testing is complete we won’t have a firm timeline on production/delivery of the bulk of our order.

In sum, the CTA has been integrating cameras into its system over the past decade and steps are already underway to add cameras to the rail fleet.

We CTA riders also have responsibility for our own safety. We should:

  • Be aware of our surroundings.
  • Watch out for our belongings.
  • Report crime – with detailed descriptions of offenders – to the police.


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  • Great article! Thank you for mentioning the group; I hope more people will be inspired to join and share their ideas and solutions. We're getting one step closer to making the CTA safe for everyone every day. Thank you.

  • Thanks for emphasizing the responsibility of passengers to be aware of their surroundings and belongings. Cameras are great and can be an asset in solving a crime, and perhaps function as a deterrent, but their presence doesn't absolve the rider of being aware. I often have the pleasure of riding packed Brown Line trains out of the Loop since the CTA seems to think eight-car trains aren't necessary after 8pm, but that's a gripe for another time. I never ceased to be amazed at the number of people who stand or sit near the doors and focus solely on their fancy phones, iPads, laptops, etc. Yes, we should all be able to enjoy our toys wherever and whenever we want, but the reality is that others might want our toys to be their toys and we need to protect our stuff.

  • Agree with Martha. While the CTA should provide a bit more safety, it is still up to us to make sure that our things remain our things. If you are near the door, 2 hands and one eye on the device, the other eye should be watching around you.

    I just don't pull out my phone if I'm stuck near the door. Why risk it?

  • Does anyone have any statistics about crimes that occur on the Metra? I never hear about problems on those trains. What is the reason behind this? As far as I know, the Metra trains don't have cameras either, and some pass through rough areas of the city too (e.g. the Union Pacific West Line goes through the Austin neighborhood just like the Green Line). Maybe there's something the Metra does right that the CTA can learn from?

  • Also, my fiance's phone was ~almost~ stolen, but his stare and inaction caused them to leap out of the train empty-handed. However, there was another time on the Blue Line when a random stranger punched my fiance in the face for no apparent reason at all; we were just sitting by the door and the guy smacked him as they left. That was actually much worse. At least theft doesn't always require violence.
    The idea of having cameras would be pointless if there was no one watching the cameras. I wonder what we can do as passengers and patrons to help the CTA conduct this research they are doing to "determine the feasibility of retrofitting the ... cars with cameras?" And yeah, what is the Metra doing that the CTA isn't?

  • I think that the solution to the problem lies in the victim's hands (not literally). I understand that in some cases it may be hard to stop a theft from happening, but riders need to be aware of their surroundings. Like what Martha said, we should be able to enjoy what we paid for, but don't enjoy it too much or you increase the risk of losing it. Responding to the question of why Metra is more successful at stopping theft than the CTA, I think Metra riders are more safe because thieves don't have an easy escape route like CTA thieves do. On the CTA, it is usually no more than 3-4 minutes max. between stops, while on Metra the time is a lot greater, so theives are worried that they might be caught before they can get away.

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