Only one out of four violent crimes reported on Chicago's rapid-transit system ends in an arrest by the Chicago Police Department, NBC5 Investigates has found in a month-long investigation. What's more, that rate has not improved in recent years, despite the Chicago Transit Authority's much-publicized installation and expansion of a $26 million network of 3,600 surveillance cameras on rail cars and platforms system-wide.
On the other hand, overall violent crime on Chicago's "El" has decreased in the past two years, giving credence to the CTA's position that the cameras can act - at very least - as a deterrent to violence on Chicago's rapid transit system.
NBC 5 Investigates also analyzed police data to find out which CTA platforms have the highest number of reports of violent crime and thefts. We found that the Red Line station at 95th and the Dan Ryan Expressway tops the list with the most violent crimes, and the Red Line's subway stop at Jackson and State ranks the highest for thefts - mostly pickpocketing and swiping of gadgets and smartphones.
It happened to Carmen Myers when she was riding the CTA's Blue Line.
"[A man] dropped something in front of me, and reached down to pick it up," she says. She says she didn't think much of it until she prepared to get off at the next stop. "So I reach in my pocket - sure enough, my phone is not there."
She's not alone.
NBC 5 Investigates indexed and analyzed all Chicago police reports of crime that took place in and near all rapid-transit stations across Chicago - platforms, trains, stations, and adjacent bus stops - for the past five years. Reported crimes can range from cashing bad checks and jumping turnstiles, all the way to assault, sex offenses and murder. NBC 5 focused on two particular areas - violent crimes and thefts - and looked at crime rates, arrests rates, and incident locations, from 2009 to 2013.
We found that violent crime - classified in police reports as arson, assaults, battery, burglaries, criminal sexual assaults, homicides, kidnapping, robberies, sex offenses and stalking - has fallen on CTA platforms, cars and stations. The CTA agrees, although there's a discrepancy concerning the overall level of decline. CTA spokesman Brian Steele says violent crime has decreased by 40 percent in the past two years, largely due to the increasing effectiveness of the surveillance cameras. NBC5's analysis found the rate has fallen by about 10 percent.
Our analysis also found that thefts on the CTA have spiked more than 68 percent over the past five years. Much of that may well be due to the fact that there are simply many more gadgets out there to steal. In fact the spike in the use of smartphones has been so dramatic that it's quite possible a double-digit rise in thefts could be considered positive if it is lower than the increase in gadgets overall.
But if you do get that gadget stolen, it's very unlikely you'll ever get it back -- or that the thief will be arrested. NBC5 Investigates found that - according to the Chicago police report statistics - the arrest rate for thefts is miniscule: Last year only three percent of CTA thefts resulted in an arrest - down from five percent in 2012.
The CTA's Steele counters that one arrest may actually account for several thefts - even though it is not reflected in Chicago police reports. Again, he credits the increase in surveillance.
"Those cameras have been really valuable in capturing images of crimes, and - more importantly - helping identify offenders and lead to arrests," he said. "One arrest can actually close out multiple cases. .... We've seen that time and time again, especially as it relates to thefts and robberies."
The takeaway for riders is simple: As tempting as it is to get absorbed in your smartphone or gadget, remember that gadget is tempting to others as well.
"That's like walking around with four hundred dollars in cash," says Miguel Fuentes of the Guardian Angels, which patrols CTA trains in an effort to curb crime.
He says riders must force themselves to look around every few minutes and stay alert of the surroundings.
In the case of Carmen Myers, it was an alert CTA motorman who came to her aid when she realized her smartphone had disappeared. He actually stopped the train and got the thief to hand it over.
Myers wishes she could meet the motorman who came to her aid.
"I would give him a hug and say, 'Thank you,' -- you know -- 'Thank you for getting my phone, and thank you for making me more observant,'" Myers said.
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