CTA security plan unveiled

The Chicago Police Department will bolster its Mass Transit Unit by 50 officers, assign four detectives exclusively to solving CTA crimes and build a strategic deployment center specifically for mass transit.

Two Chicago police officers patrol the Jackson Red Line platform.

Two Chicago police officers patrol the Jackson Red Line platform earlier this month in the wake of several attacks occurring on CTA trains and platforms.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The Chicago Police Department will bolster its Mass Transit Unit by 50 officers, assign four detectives exclusively to solving CTA crimes and build a strategic deployment center specifically for mass transit.

Interim CPD Supt. Charlie Beck’s response to an outbreak of mass transit violence is to dramatically increase police presence on CTA trains and platforms and bring to the transit system “smart policing” technology credited with driving down violent crime in some of Chicago’s highest-crime police districts.

The Mass Transit Unit, now at 200 officers, will grow to 250. And add another 50 when you count moonlighting officers bankrolled by the CTA.

As a force multiplier, Beck said he has asked each of the city’s 22 police districts to do “platform security missions” several times per shift at CTA stations in those districts.

That leaves officers assigned to the Mass Transit Unit free to ride the trains, dramatically increasing both the perception and reality of safety for CTA riders.

“We’re gonna hold the districts — the normal geographic commands — primarily responsible for that platform presence because I want as many of the 250 cops that will be assigned to CTA to be riding the trains as possible,” Beck said.

The technology will extend to the officers themselves, who will wear tracking devices.

“Deep into CTA, oftentimes, their [police radios] don’t work. We want to make sure we know where they are so we can keep them safe,” Beck said.

“It’s not only how many you have. It’s how you use them. And we want to make sure we’re using them effectively in the right places at the right times.”

CTA personnel gather outside the Blue Line station at UIC-Halsted, 430 S. Halsted St.

CTA personnel gather outside the Blue Line station at UIC-Halsted, 430 S. Halsted St., on Feb. 5. They were responding to a report of a person being shot on a train.

Sam Charles/Sun-Times file

The new Strategic Decision Support Center is expected to open sometime this spring in the Central Police District. It’s bankrolled by a donation from billionaire Ken Griffin, Illinois’ richest man.

The center will have access to more than 32,000 surveillance cameras installed on CTA buses, trains and platforms.

“Having a crime analyst there will allow us to not only respond to crime, but make sure that we can put people where we think crime is gonna occur,” the superintendent said.

That should be a big help to the dedicated team of four detectives assigned to solve CTA crimes in general and cell phone theft in particular.

“If we get the information to a detective quickly enough, they can start geo-locating that phone to see if we can make a quick recovery and arrest. If it’s just handed off to an officer that writes the paper on it, it won’t happen until later in the system,” Beck said.

“We want to get somebody on these things right away so we can make every effort to make an arrest and recover property. That’ll be a big part of what they do. And also look at different avenues where phones are re-sold and they may be re-purposed and cut down some of the demand.”

Last week, Beck took the extraordinarily step of asking SWAT team officers he called the “best and the brightest” at CPD to start riding CTA trains as a prelude to the more extensive crackdown on mass transit violence.

That’s how important it was to send a message that the recent outbreak of violence at CTA will not be tolerated.

“There have been high-profile incidents. We are having far too many crimes of violence on the trains. We want to make sure we get ahead of this and get on a path of improved safety,” Beck said.

With the 50 additional officers, the SWAT officers will return to their normal duties. Asked where the 50 officers will be coming from, Beck said, “A little bit of everybody,” including police districts.

The decision to dramatically increase police presence and visibility on the CTA will be music to the ears of Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), the former Chicago Police officer now chairing the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety.

Taliaferro’s daughter rides the Blue Line to UIC every day.

“She was on the same train where there was a young man that died — 24 years-old at the Cumberland stop a couple of weeks ago. She was also just getting off the Blue Line at UIC, where she goes to school, when a young man was shot,” Taliaferro said.

“My daughter feels that we need to increase safety on our trains. She’s not scared to take it. She’s just concerned, as I am, about the lack of visibility of police officers on the platforms. The perception [crime] is increasing because we’re constantly hearing things on our L system as well as on buses. And they’re not just petty offenses like burglary and theft. They’re actually violent crimes.”

Years ago, moonlighting Chicago Police officers hired by the CTA on their days off created a “strong presence on every single platform,” Taliaferro recalled.

“We would actually even ride the trains back and forth from one stop to another having a constant presence on CTA. I’d like to see that happen again,” Taliaferro said.

Two Chicago police officers patrol the Jackson Red Line platform.

Two Chicago police officers patrol the Jackson Red Line platform earlier this month.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

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