Wilson wants CTA to bring back conductors and its police unit to stop ‘crisis’ of mass transit crime

Mayoral candidate Willie Wilson said Mayor Lori Lightfoot “has 71 security officers around her house,” so “why can’t she protect the citizens that get robbed” on the CTA?

SHARE Wilson wants CTA to bring back conductors and its police unit to stop ‘crisis’ of mass transit crime
Turnstiles at the CTA’s Red Line subway stop at Lake Street.

Turnstiles at the CTA’s Red Line subway stop at Lake Street.

Sun-Times files

Mayoral challenger Willie Wilson vowed Monday that if elected he will bring back CTA conductors, resurrect the CTA’s own police unit and supplement both efforts by hiring back retired Chicago police officers to stop a surge in violent crime and unruly behavior that’s keeping riders away and putting employees at risk.

The millionaire businessman embraced the security plan championed by Eric Dixon, president of the Amalgamated Transit Workers Union Local 308. Wilson announced his plan after riding the L from 95th Street to downtown, ending up at the Thompson Center, across the street from Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office at City Hall.

Wilson said he has no idea how much it would cost to re-establish the CTA police unit and hire conductors. Nor does he know how many retired cops would need to be hired.

He only knows that, no matter how much it costs, more must be done to stop an epidemic of strong-armed robberies, stabbings and shootings that is scaring the people who have no choice but to ride the CTA to work and encouraging those who do have a choice to continue to drive to work, or work from home.

“The first duty of a mayor, in my opinion, is to protect its citizens. If she has 71 security officers around her house, why can’t she protect the citizens that get robbed and things of that nature on the CTA?” Wilson said.

“You [used to have] people coming from the suburban areas on CTA. Now, they’re not doing it because they’re afraid of the crime. … A lot of people don’t come to Chicago no more. They don’t even come for tours. I’ve got people who are suburban who are afraid to come. People are afraid. Look how many tax dollars you’re losing just from people who don’t come to Chicago and go elsewhere to shop. You’re defeating yourself right there.”

Two months ago, Lightfoot, Police Supt. David Brown and CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. unveiled a plan to “more than double the resources” devoted to unarmed private security guards and “strategically adjust resources” from within the Chicago Police Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism to better address shifts in crime patterns” on public transit.

Chicago Transit Authority President Dorval Carter Jr. discusses public safety and improving commuters’ experience during a news conference at the Red Line’s Chicago station, 800 N. State St., Wednesday afternoon, March 9, 2022.

Chicago Transit Authority President Dorval Carter Jr. discusses public safety and improving commuters’ experience during a news conference at the Red Line’s Chicago station, 800 N. State St., Wednesday afternoon, March 9, 2022.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Brown said on that day the additional officers would be divided into teams focusing on gang and drug crimes in response to complaints from “CTA customers that they see drug dealing” and “conflicts associated with gangs.”

Like Wilson on Monday, Brown on that day offered no specific numbers: “As much as we need to send to the CTA to make it safe is the amount of resources we’ll send.”

On Monday, Wilson denounced the mayor’s plan as too little, too late, noting not a day goes by without another brazen crime on the CTA.

“Unarmed [security] doesn’t discourage people from getting robbed and raped and things of that nature because there’s a lot of it still going on. I would bring back retired police officers to get a handle on this situation. This is a crisis,” Wilson said.

“You find the money for COVID-19. You can find the money for this right here. You found the money to try and compete with me for gasoline cards. You find the money for that. Why can’t you find the money for more [CTA] police officers?”

Pressed on how many officers a revived CTA police unit needs, Wilson said, “We’ll hire enough to make sure we stop this crime. The exact number, I don’t know yet. I’m not in the police department. I’m not the mayor — yet. But we’ll hire enough. We do whatever it takes by all means necessary under the law to stop the crime.”

Dixon could not be reached for comment.

CTA spokesman Brian Steele argued the CTA and CPD partnership is the “most effective and prudent way to handle law enforcement” on mass transit.

“Having CPD in stations and on buses and trains not only benefits CTA riders, but the City as a whole, something that would not be achieved with an independent policing unit. CTA also benefits from officers and detectives from CPD districts patrolling and responding to CTA locations,” Steele wrote in an email.

Steele noted CPD’s Mass Transit Unit is staffed by officers dedicated solely to patrolling stations, platforms and trains around the clock.

CPD also operates a Strategic Decision Support Center with “smart-policing technology and full connectivity to CTA’s extensive security-camera network, as well as detectives dedicated to CTA-related crime,” he said.

During an unrelated news conference to announce another round of neighborhood business grants, Lightfoot acknowledged “more resources need to be committed to the CTA” to lure passengers afraid to ride buses and trains.

A reporter noted there were three stabbings on three separate CTA lines over the weekend. Asked how that crime wave might impact the race for mayor, Lightfoot said it’s “not about politics.” It’s about “making sure that people are safe” and that Chicago residents and commuters “feel safe” on all modes of public transportation.

“The CTA is the life-blood of this city. Whether it’s the bus lines. Whether it’s the train lines. We’ve got to do a better job,” she said, adding that she had “multiple conversations” with Brown and Carter over the weekend.

“There’s got to be better communication and collaboration there. And I’m doing my part and will continue to make sure that we are forging critical solutions. We’ve got to keep the passengers safe. And we’ve got to keep those workers safe as well and make sure they’re not vulnerable. And I think there’s some additional enhancements that we can bring to the table to do just that.”

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