Violent crime on Chicago Transit Authority’s bus and train lines is up 17% compared to last year — and while CTA officials are hoping new measures announced this week will help, a union president isn’t sure they will be enough.
The CTA is partnering with the city of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department to add officers and unarmed guards throughout the transit system.
Officials announced the measures during a news conference Wednesday at the Chicago/State Red Line stop, where they discussed how CPD will be “strategically adjusting resources from within the Bureau of Counterterrorism to better address shifts in crime patterns,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Teams of officers will focus on gangs, drug crimes and patrolling the rail lines. In addition, two new contracts approved by the CTA board will “more than double the resources” for unarmed private security.
It comes as the transit agency tries to win back commuters who will return to in-person work in the coming weeks and months, as well as those looking to avoid all-time high gas prices.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot emphasized during Wednesday’s event the importance of a visible security and police presence to deter crime and make commuters feel safe.
“The word is visibility,” Lightfoot said. “What we need to do is make sure that, on every platform across our system, you, the commuters, see the visibility of sworn police officers as well as these unarmed security guards.”
Security guards will be trained in conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques, according to officials. The guards are meant to point out rules that riders aren’t following, such as smoking inside cars and playing loud music.
Eric Dixon, president of the Amalgamated Transit Workers Union Local 308, recently told WBEZ’s Reset that he’d like to see the CTA bring back its own police force, similar to transit systems in other cities, like New York City and San Francisco.
“I commend on putting more officers out there, more presence out there, but I just feel, you know, I think it would be a lot better if we had our own police as opposed to armed security guards and things of that nature,” Dixon said.
The city used to have its own transit police, until former Mayor Jane Byrne dissolved the program.
Dixon said he’s concerned because many of his union members have said they don’t feel safe coming to work.
Train conductors and bus drivers have found themselves in the middle of difficult situations, such as during Tuesday’s shooting on a CTA Red Line train at the 63rd Street stop.
“I just don’t think the security guards work,” Dixon said. “I mean, look at the security guards that we have here now. A lot of them are younger adults.”
Brian Steele, a spokesperson for the CTA, responded to Dixon’s concerns by emphasizing the resources CPD committed. Those officers will be assigned mainly to the system’s Red and Blue lines.
CPD also has a public transportation unit that is entirely focused on the CTA, with uniformed and plainclothes officers deployed throughout the system every day, Steele added. They also have a strategic command center, which can help expedite reviewing security footage and coordinating target missions to focus on things like pickpockets.
Dixon said that conductors should also return to the CTA, at least on the Red and Blue lines, which run 24 hours a day. Multiple conductors used to be spread throughout trains until 1997, when the agency switched to a system in which a single operator took on the conductors’ responsibilities. That includes performing platform safety checks, opening and closing train doors, making announcements and answering passengers’ questions, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“You can’t stop individuals sometimes from doing what they’re going to do,” Dixon said. “But then, that goes back to me saying that if we had a presence around a little more, it may deter some of those situations from happening.”
Ridership took a major plunge at the start of the pandemic, but it more than doubled over the past year, with about 400,000 riders in January 2021 to about 800,000 riders at the start of 2022.
Those numbers may continue to go up, especially with higher gas prices, though Steele said it’s hard to tell how much of the system’s ridership can be attributed to gas prices.
“But we do know one thing for sure: For the price of a gallon of gas, you can ride on the CTA for an entire day,” Steele said. “One of the things we did last year was make permanent some of the price reductions on our unlimited ride passes. So a customer can get unlimited rides for an entire day for $5. So CTA remains a great, great value.”
Office work and summer activities are also expected to ramp up, so officials expect trains and buses will start becoming more crowded.
“I think it’s important to keep crime overall in perspective on the CTA,” Steele said. “We’re a big system; even though we’ve seen a big drop in ridership, we are carrying 800,000 people a day.”