One year after CWB reported that violent crime was increasing dramatically on the CTA Red Line despite a sharp decline in ridership during COVID, city officials today called the current level of crime on the city’s transit system “unacceptable.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, CTA President Dorval Carter, and CPD Supt. David Brown announced new security measures during a press conference at the Chicago Red Line station Wednesday afternoon.

In reality, the measures aren’t new. They’re essentially the same shuffling of police resources and private security contractors that the city has done time after time in the past when crime on the transit lines grabs media attention. Inevitably, the efforts wane, and crime returns, only to be addressed by the same “new” tactics after another press conference.

The city’s “plan” is so old and has been rolled out and rolled back so many times, we had no plans to write about it today. That is, until 32 minutes into the press conference when Brown, the police superintendent, boasted that there was an 11% decrease in crime on the CTA last year.

That’s right. After the mayor and CTA president and Brown himself talked about the unacceptable level of crime on Chicago’s public transit for a half-hour, Brown fired up CPD’s tried-and-true talking point for all occasions: Crime is down!

In fact, the number of criminal reports generated on CTA property did decline last year when compared to 2020 — but the “crimes” that declined have nothing to do with the safety of passengers.

  • Murders increased 33% from 3 to 4
  • Shootings increased 64% from 4 to 11
  • Sexual assaults increased 300% from 4 to 16
  • Robberies increased 9% from 453 to 492
  • Stabbings increased 24% from 41 to 51

So, how did crime go “down?” According to the city’s data, most of the decrease came through a reduction in the reporting of crimes by CTA itself and a decline in CPD enforcement. There were:

  • 172 fewer criminal damage (graffiti) reports taken
  • 88 fewer trespassing arrests
  • 62 fewer narcotics arrests
  • 31 fewer deceptive practice cases (mostly turnstile jumpers)

There were also 273 fewer theft cases on CTA last year compared to 2020. That’s because the first 80 days or so of 2020 had relatively normal levels of CTA ridership and relatively normal levels of theft, which drove up the 2020 totals.

Before the state’s stay-at-home order went into effect on March 20, 2020, there were 414 theft cases reported on CTA. By comparison, with ridership depressed due to COVID last year, only 89 theft cases were reported during the same period.

According to CTA, overall ridership on CTA buses and trains was down about 3.5% in 2021 compared to 2020 through November.

So, yes. “Crime” reports were down on the CTA in 2021 when compared to 2020, which will be reassuring to anyone concerned about trespassing, taggers, and turnstile jumpers.

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