Dan Beam had a bad feeling about the two men who crossed his car on the red line at the CTA one day last month. They measured its size. Then someone grabbed his cell phone.
This led to a brawl using knives and bottles that highlighted the sharp rise in violent crime on CTA’s trains, subway buses, and buses — and the city’s efforts to contain it.
Bem, 42, resisted, eventually escaping, and his attackers arrested.
But not before he was kicked in the face, stabbed in the collarbone, and cracked in the head with bottles as he tackled the two men he was worried about and four others he and police say were also involved in the July 22 attack.
Spilled onto another train carriage and the platform of North/Clybourn station, Beam stabbed three of his attackers before jumping off the train and calling for help.
“There is no doubt that I was a victim no matter how the fight went. [and] I might have gotten a couple of photos,” Bem says. “It’s a traumatic experience. I can’t imagine other people not as knowledgeable, alert, or prepared as I am in this kind of situation.”
An analysis by the Chicago Sun-Times concludes that the number of violent crime in L and buses has jumped to a level not seen in more than a decade. As of July 19, 488 attacks have been reported on the transit system – the most since 533 during the same period in 2011.
The number of passengers has remained relatively low since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. That means riders are more likely to fall victim to violent crime today than they were a few years ago, according to the analysis, based on city crime data.
The city used to have an online and publicly available data portal that tracks every crime on the CTA but stopped updating that in 2011. Sun-Times used other crime data to create a similar data set for this analysis.
Violent crimes accounted for more than 26% of the 1,863 crimes reported in the CTA this year.
In 2018 and 2019, when the number of riders was much greater, violent crime accounted for 13% of crimes.
As more violent crimes were committed, the deployment of police officers to the CTA system did not keep pace.
Reported violent crimes from year to date
The chart below shows the number of crimes reported from January 1 to July 19 for each year from 2001 to 2022
By July 19, 2022 488 Violent crimes have been reported.
Source: Sun Times analysis of Chicago Police Department data Jesse Howe/Sun Times
There are 145 officers assigned to the Chicago Police Department’s transit units, down 92 from the peak in April 2020. To them are added more than 250 unarmed private security guards.
Beam, who is from Chicago who runs a call center and runs the career of soul musician Adam Ness, says he’s been told he can’t sue the CTA to pay for his medical expenses. He started a GoFundMe online fundraising campaign that raised over $3,000.
“We all know it’s unacceptable,” he says of the rise in violent crime on the CTA. “But the truth is that the city is not doing anything about it. It certainly looks like the people who are currently responsible for the situation are not doing a proper job.”
More defenseless guards, more crime
This year began with the number of police officers patrolling the CTA dropping to its lowest level in five years.
The Police Department’s Public Transportation and Transit Security units had 138 officers patrolling the entire system in February, according to data collected by the city’s inspector general’s office. This number was the lowest since August 2017, and is the oldest monthly data provided. This month saw the assignment of 145 officers to these units.
By comparison, the Dallas-area Rapid Transit Police Service has more than 200 officers patrolling its system. It announced plans earlier this year to hire another 65.
On March 9 – after a series of violent attacks – Mayor Lori Lightfoot and police Sopt. David Brown held a press conference at the Chicago Avenue Red Line station, where a group of teenagers had been beaten and robbed two days earlier.
They announced plans to hire more unarmed guards and change police resources to “better address shifts in crime patterns” — measures criticized by a transit union chief who called on the agency to set up its own police department, as Dallas, New York and Atlanta ended.
Also at the press conference was Lightfoot’s CTA Chairman Dorval Carter Jr., who tried to reassure riders at a time when city officials were working to boost business and tourism still recovering from the pandemic-induced shutdown.
In 2019, the last year unaffected by the coronavirus, the CTA averaged nearly 38 million monthly riders. Between June 2021 and this May, the latest available monthly data, less than half of passengers used the public transit system each month.
“I want you to know that we understand how some of your riding experiences have changed and that we are committed to improving them,” Carter said in March.
But only six police officers have been added to police transit units since March.
A series of attacks last month reignited concerns about the security of the CTA.
Three days after Beam’s attack, 15-year-old Darren McNair was stabbed to death when he and six other people attempted to rob a man on a red line train near 63rd Street.
boss. Joseph Beard of the Department of Public Transportation says that riders are often the target of burglaries and looting when a train is stopped at a station, for example, with a thief opening the doors open, while a mobile partner grabs someone’s hand and takes off.
The public transport department consists mainly of uniformed policemen. According to Baird, the smaller Transit Security Unit includes plainclothes officers. There are also a number of canine officers assigned to the system.
At a press conference Monday, Brown said additional officers from outside the department’s transportation units are now being recruited to support CTA coverage.
Assigning cops to these “graded deployments” has become a necessity for an administration struggling to retain and recruit members. Officers’ vacation days were canceled and they were sent to work in an unfamiliar environment, including in high-crime areas.
Police officials are aiming for 131 police officers to work per day in the transportation system, according to Brown, who said new recruits will be assigned to CTA units.
Total reported crimes decreased after the pandemic…
Together with CTA ridership…
While violent crimes increased.
Source: Sun Times analysis of Chicago Police Department data Jesse Howe/Sun Times
“All neighborhoods need more people, too,” he said. “So it’s not just a one-time thing. If it was just a call-to-action, it would be much easier to solve.”
Brian McDermott, the police department’s chief of patrols, says officers under him are required to check train stations every shift. Also, county leaders conduct name calls on CTA platforms, and patrol officers conduct drills to check response times on CTAs, according to McDermott.
Byrd says police pass cards at community meetings to solicit advice and work with CTA staff to coordinate deployments and “define what they see.”
The CTA’s 32,000 cameras also serve as a crime-fighting tool, according to Bird, who says the department uses them to build cases. He and Hosinski refer to the attack on Beam as a case in which the cameras were crucial in identifying suspects.
Six people were arrested and five charged with crimes. They all have previous convictions, including Vernon Holman, 52, a five-time convict and convicted murderer who was stabbed during the botched burglary.
The CTA has more than 250 unarmed guards assigned to the system, and officials say they hope to add about 50 more, though the agency is struggling to fill vacancies, like many transit agencies across the country.
The combined local union 308, representing some CTA employees, lobbied for the reinstatement of conductors, who had been pulled from trains beginning in 1997. The union also called for the re-establishment of the CTA’s police department, which was dissolved in 1980.
Doing so would take several years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars, Hosinski says.
“This partnership with CPD provides CTA support to other police resources, such as investigators and the Strategic Decision Support Center, launched by CPD in 2020, which features smart police technology and full connectivity to CTA’s extensive network of security cameras,” Hosinski says. “Furthermore, this partnership benefits not only CTA passengers but the city as a whole, something that cannot be achieved with an independent police unit.”
Even before the pandemic turned normal life upside down, Chicago city officials were having a hard time making the transportation system safer. In late January 2020, just a week after the city’s first case of coronavirus was confirmed, Lightfoot described what was then a three-year increase in CTA crime as “wholly and fundamentally unacceptable” and promised to address it.
After asking SWAT officers to board the trains, the temporary police Supt. Charlie Beck announced plans to launch a campaign in February. He added more transit cops, hired four investigators to solve CTA crimes, and built a strategic deployment center specifically for mass transit.
Supported by 50 overtime officers paid by the CTA, the number of policemen assigned to transit units grew from 187 that month to 237 in April 2020 – the largest number in recent years.
But then the number of passengers dropped dramatically, brought Lightfoot Brown to head the police department, and began to thin the ranks of those units.
Pro says not only CTA problem
Julia Gerasimenko, advocacy director for the Transit Active Alliance, says public transportation safety should not only fall to the CTA but should be addressed by other government agencies as well.
“When it comes to crime in the CTA, it’s not as if the CTA is somehow immune to other societal ills in this city,” says Gerasimenko. “Other city agencies need to step up efforts, and we need political will that not only fund public safety but also increase funding for social services and public health and strengthen other safety net programs.”
The introduction of more unarmed security guards into CTA train stations is baffling because there is little evidence that they are making any difference, Gerasimenko says.
Rather than spending $71 million on private security — with no oversight on guard training and no one looking into whether they are effective — she suggests as an alternative to investing in “transit ambassadors” who would act as delivery leaders but would not. Be a union.
“Frankly, we don’t see these unarmed security guards resolving any dispute other than kicking uninhabited people off the train,” Gerasimenko says. They are not seen on platforms where violent crimes are taking place. They were not trained in de-escalation or even customer service.”