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Crime on the L, CTA buses is up; 90% of serious incidents go unsolved

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. were boasting last year how CTA crime had fallen. That was then. Now, it's up 16 percent in a year — and more than 90 percent of serious crimes reported on the L and buses and at CTA stations in Chicago go unsolved. | Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times files

More than 90 percent of the serious crimes reported on CTA L trains and buses and at stations in Chicago go unsolved.

Serious crime overall on the CTA in the city went up 16 percent last year — mostly thefts of cellphones and other items.

And the CTA doesn’t keep statistics on crimes that take place in the suburbs aboard its buses or trains or at stations.

Those are among the key findings of a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of CTA and police data from the beginning of 2015 through mid-April that also found:

• Most serious transit-related crimes in Chicago occurred on the L. Since 2015, 1,906 “index crimes” — which includes homicides, robberies, burglaries and rapes, among other categories — were reported on L trains in the city. There was one murder during that period: the stabbing death of a woman on the South Side Red Line branch last year. The police made an arrest in the case, which they characterized as a “domestic” crime.

CTA workers directed passengers away from the 47th Street Red Line platform after Jessica Hampton, 25, was stabbed to death on the L near there in June last year. | Andy Grimm / Sun-Times files

• The vast majority of crimes were classified as “larceny-theft” — with 3,101 of these reported on the CTA train and bus systems in Chicago over the two-plus years the Sun-Times examined. Of the 1,442 thefts in 2016, 2.6 percent were solved.

• There were 861 robberies reported on the CTA in the city since 2015, including 421 last year — up 78 from the previous year. About 11.6 percent of them were solved in 2016.

• Also, more than 200 serious crimes were reported in 2015 and 2016 on CTA tracks and rights-of-way or at CTA parking lots and garages, including seven vehicle thefts.

Last year, 2,007 serious crimes were reported at L stations and bus stops and on CTA trains and buses in the city of Chicago, the analysis found. So far, 134 of them have been solved, with arrests, according to records from the Chicago Police Department, which patrols the city’s portion of the sprawling mass transit system — a 6.7 percent crimes-solved rate.

In 2015, 1,728 serious crimes were reported, with 139 of them solved, a rate of roughly 8 percent, the records show.

In the first few months of this year, 540 serious crimes were reported — 36 of them have been solved.

Asked why there are so few arrests, the police say only that efforts are being made citywide that include providing more training to detectives “in locating and processing video surveillance footage” from CTA buses and trains “to use in evaluating the chronology of events during a criminal incident.”

Though few end up being arrested, CTA spokesman Steve Mayberry says serious crime on the transit system remains “extremely rare.” Though “the 2016 numbers show an uptick from 2015, the 2016 crime statistics are actually lower than any year since 2008, with the exception of 2015. In fact, in 2016, there was one serious crime on CTA per every quarter-million passenger trips.”

Though few end up being arrested, CTA spokesman Steve Mayberry says serious crime on the transit system remains “extremely rare.” Though “the 2016 numbers show an uptick from 2015, the 2016 crime statistics are actually lower than any year since 2008, with the exception of 2015. In fact, in 2016, there was one serious crime on CTA per every quarter-million passenger trips.”

Last year, CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. and his boss, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, touted a drop citywide in 2015 CTA-related index crimes. In part, Carter and Emanuel credited the growing web of security cameras — some of them monitored live by CTA security personnel, all of them recorded by the agency and available on request to the police.


Earlier this month, Emanuel wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times headlined “In Chicago, the trains actually run on time” in which he bragged about the level of service on the L while taking a swipe at New York City and Washington, D.C. That prompted the New York Daily News to respond: “Congratulations to Chicago for having a transit system that’s so popular with its passengers. Now try getting them home without anyone getting shot.”

Chicago is on pace to record more homicides this year than in 2016, which saw the number of murders hit a level not seen since the mid-1990s.

David Houston, 22, says he didn’t call the police after being accosted on the Green Line around 4 a.m. one day last year. | Nader Issa / Sun-Times

It’s difficult to fully gauge how much crime there is on CTA buses and trains and at stations.

In part, that’s because some victims don’t call the police. David Houston, 22, says he didn’t bother to after an attempted robbery on the Green Line last year. The Austin resident was riding the train nearly every day until his June graduation from DePaul University.

“It was like 4 o’clock in the morning, and I was on the train car by myself,” Houston says. “I saw one guy kind of walking through the different train cars, and then on the stop before I was about to get off, a couple of them stopped me, started asking me for money. When I said I didn’t have any, they started trying to rough me up and take my wallet.”

Houston says he still rides the L, though, and thinks generally it’s safe.

Another reason it’s difficult to get a complete picture of CTA crime is that, while the agency keeps statistics on incidents in the city, it doesn’t keep or even request such overall crime data from the 30-plus suburbs it also serves.

A former CTA official who served under Mayor Richard M. Daley and spoke only on the condition of not being named says the agency took pains in the past to avoid charting suburban crime numbers.

“Why put out there something to make the system look worse?” the former official says. “It was very purposeful.”

CTA spokesman Steve Mayberry. | LinkedIn

The CTA isn’t ignoring suburban numbers now to try to make the system look safer, according to agency officials, who say the CTA “closely monitors crime activity in all of our suburban service areas” even if it doesn’t keep statistics on them. When “a suburban department identifies an area of potential concern, CTA works closely with them to address it,” Mayberry says.

Robert Paaswell, who ran the CTA from 1986 to 1989 and is now director emeritus of the City College of New York’s University Transportation Research Center, says the agency didn’t keep track of suburban numbers when he was in charge but that it should.

Robert Paaswell, former CTA boss, says the mass transit agency should keep track of crime on its bus and L systems in the suburbs, too, not just in the city. | City College of New York

“Any problem, whether it’s your wheels squeaking or doors not opening . . . is something you have to know the numbers on so you can know what investment to make . . . to fix it,” says Paaswell.

Neither Carter, who was a top CTA executive for part of Daley’s tenure and returned under Emanuel, nor CTA security chief Pat Daly, a former FBI agent, would agree to an interview for this story.

The Sun-Times requested police records from Evanston, Forest Park, Oak Park, Skokie and Wilmette — suburbs with CTA rail or bus service — and found hundreds of transit-related crimes of varying severity.

Last January, for instance, a man was Tasered and arrested by the police in Evanston for “waving a knife around” at a Purple Line L station. That was one of 50 “incident reports” on file with the police in the north suburb for 2015, 2016 and 2017. They cover a range of crimes, from battery to theft on CTA property.

In Forest Park, more than 100 crimes on CTA property have been reported since the beginning of 2015. In one case, at a taxi stand outside a Forest Park Blue Line L station, someone stuck a “big, black revolver” up to the side of a cabbie’s head, demanding money, which he got, according to a report from the police in the west suburb.

Forest Park terminal. | CTA

In Oak Park, more than 100 serious crimes have been reported on the CTA in the past few years, records show. In one incident last year on a Green Line train, a husband traveling with his wife punched her “10-12 times with a closed fist on her face/head while she was sitting down” after she told him “she would not have sex with him,” records show.

Oak Park terminal. | CTA

In Skokie, the police logged about 50 reports of various offenses, including an incident in 2015 in which a man was trying to “pleasure himself” on a CTA bus, apparently while staring at another rider, records show.

More than 40 CTA-related crimes have been reported to Wilmette police since 2015, including several batteries and a number of bicycle thefts and acts of vandalism, records show. At the Linden L station — the northernmost stop on the Purple Line — an apparently drunk man was arrested last year after directing “racial slurs” at other riders and taking a swing at one of them with “an empty two-liter of RC pop,” according to a police report.

The Purple Line’s Linden Avenue terminal in Wilmette. | CTA

Also last year, several L cars in the Wilmette rail yard were tagged with graffiti. A police report detailed how a CTA employee “has complained many times prior about the need for cameras, but she does not predict the status to change anytime soon.”

It’s unclear how many of these suburban crimes would be considered index crimes rather than petty crimes.

Of the CTA’s 129 bus routes, 60 run solely within the city, while the rest serve the city and suburban areas, according to Mayberry. More than 90 percent of the CTA’s nearly 11,000 bus stops are in the city. Of the L system’s 145 stations, 124 are in Chicago.

Each suburban police department patrols CTA properties in its jurisdiction. The CTA also pays some municipalities for extra patrols.


• Parolee charged with carrying loaded assault rifle at CTA station

• 2 shot, seriously wounded on South Side. stray bullet hits CTA bus

Cmdr. Cindy Sam runs the Chicago Police Department’s Public Transportation Section, which patrols the CTA in the city. The CTA also uses private security contractors in some areas.

“Every day, we have several hundred people on the lines and the buses,” says Sam.

She says “it’s hard to pinpoint one thing over the other” as reasons for why CTA-related crime was up last year.

“Overall, the crime on the CTA is very low,” Sam says. “We really work hard to make sure people are getting to work and school and wherever else they’re going without incident.”

The CTA’s security department — which oversees surveillance cameras and has a budget of $17.7 million — helps pay for police services on the CTA. It routinely interacts with police departments, for instance getting them images from the cameras to help their investigators.

In 2011, there were about 1,500 cameras throughout the transit system. Today, there are more than 24,000. They were used to help make 278 arrests last year in the city and suburbs for any type of crime, according to the CTA, which says the cameras also serve as a deterrent.


• CTA buses rack up red-light, speed tickets; you pay, March 5, 2017

• CTA execs ride the pension express, Feb. 14, 2016

• Chicago’s new transit chief got sweet pension deal, June 21, 2015

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