Chicago Tribune infographic (click for more)

A few months ago, I opined about the nuanced exaggerations the media sometimes resorts to when it comes to linking where crime occurs and geographically proximate “factors” like transit, which I argued is often used as a scapegoat.  My own quick and dirty analysis revealed that criminal activity aboard transit largely reflects existing patterns in the neighborhoods where said crimes occur.

The Chicago Tribune completed a much more in-depth analysis for the Windy City over a two-year period, examining the types and locations of crimes that were occurring within the CTA system.  While there’s some jabbering about anecdotal experiences and riders’ own perceptions of crime, the underlying findings largely mirror my own:

The geographic examination of city data from 2009 through June 13 of this year demonstrates that crime patterns on the CTA closely mirror Chicago’s demographics, in terms of population density and income disparities (emphasis mine).

I still think the way police captain Lemmer frames “safe” and “unsafe” stations is a little off.  There’s really no such thing as an “unsafe” station, except those that are purposefully built to be unsafe.  Safety, at least as it relates to crime, or the illusion of it merely reflects the goings-on in the surrounding environment.  Whether a crime takes place on a subway platform or on the street below has little to do with the station itself.  Similarly, the article’s headline: “Analysis reveals hot spots for CTA-related crimes” is also misleading in this regard.

Ultimately, I think the analysis only adds to evidence that crime is a structural problem.  Unfortunately, the way we segregate policing by jurisdiction (i.e., Metro Police will respond to a crime on a bus, while Seattle PD will respond to a crime on the street) seems to uphold faulty notions about transit or even the people who use it.  If anything, we should use transit as a tool to combat crime, building vibrant community spaces that attract the attention the eyes of all its users.

9 Replies to “Linking Criminal Activity to Transit”

  1. Good story by Jon Hilkevitch. He notes that while citywide crime has been down in the last few years, crime on transit is up. Over the last three years, “thefts are up 42%, and robberies are up 69%” on CTA.

    I feel bad for riders who have no other option but to take a train home through high crime, gang-infested neighborhoods.

    1. Crime is up on the CTA because 4 years ago people weren’t riding around with smartphones in their hands and headphones in their ears NEARLY As much. Theives have found that smartphones are an easy go, so they steal them at insane rates (it has happened to me too) Opportunity has risen a ton for thieves, as well, ridership has risen, so there’s more targets.

      1. This is almost certainly right. Petty theft has always been popular in crowded areas, mass transit is getting more crowded, and now people are carrying a lot more things which are easy to steal.

  2. Having lived in Chicago, I can say that crime patterns are also a function of enforcement actions that clamp down on it in one area so it moves. It’s a game of whack-a-mole. And I have indeed, changed which stations I would utilize based on a perceived safety of the path to/from my home to those stations. Such perceptions were influenced by the presence or absence of police both blue and white units and the thuggies (they drive dark (gray/black) cars with dark tinted windows and dress in dark hoodies bulging from the bullet-proofing underneath).

  3. Is it fair to say that while crime as a whole is no worse aboard transit than anywhere else in the vicinity, a transit system has a special responsibility to make sure that people who entrust themselves to its care don’t get victimized?

    Mark Dublin

  4. Nice analysis, Sherwin. The headline is especially silly. Consider, by way of example, the absurdity of a headline that read, “Analysis reveals hot spots for sidewalk-related crime.”

    Hilkevitch has long been a fine transportation reporter for the Trib, though.

  5. Unfortunately a story like this and STB’s response means were doing a little three card monte.

    Running a billion dollar light rail system through Rainier was sold, in part, with the idea that the transit would revitalize those neighborhoods. This study says that crime onboard reflects the crime outside. So now you say we have to “build communities” to reduce the crime to make the billion dollar transit system safe?

    Wasn’t the transit system supposed to make the communities safe? Is that not how you sold this project to begin with??

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