CTA credits drop in robberies to video surveillance

October 26, 2012 4:17:36 PM PDT
The CTA says robberies have dropped 25 percent so far this year. The transit authority credits much of that to video surveillance.

Friday, the agency says its surveillance system is getting even better.

CTA ridership has gone up over the last couple years and so too have crime stats. So, to stem the latter, the CTA has invested a lot of time and money into security, and it's beginning to pay some dividends.

July 1st. CTA subway platform on the Red Line at Jackson. A pick-pocket crew has its mark. One of the thieves fakes a fall entering the car. The pickpocket comes up behind the target, and rips a billfold out of the victim's front pocket. The mark doesn't even know it. But then the pickpocket doesn't know - or doesn't care - that he's been caught on camera.

The pickpocket, Christopher Brown, had over 100 previous arrests. He is now back in the department of corrections because of an electronic witness.

"We're working on a case right now that was only four hours ago, and the charges are gonna be because of our video," said Jim Keating, CTA security.

The CTA Friday sought to feature its new video surveillance headquarters -- 12 times larger than the old room -- and linked to a network of 3,600 cameras covering all the system's rail stations.

The technology boost and a manpower boost, more transit cops on the platforms and more investigators working what the cameras produce, led to what the CTA says is a noticeable drop in robbery, theft and violent crime over last year.

"We're arresting more people as a result of the video cameras, and we're getting more habitual criminals off our streets and out of our system," said CTA President Forrest Claypool.

Many of the habitual criminals are pickpockets not typically given to more violent crime.

Still, robbery is down 25 percent through the first nine months of 2012 compared to last, and the CTA believes a more robust approach to security is the reason.

Does that mean that riders who have been hesitant to use their smartphones or other electronic gear on the train should feel more comfortable doing so now?

"We don't encourage people to stand out there and concentrate on their phone. You have to travel smart. You don't want to become a victim," said Chicago Police Commander John Graeber.

The CTA camera network, which includes all the new 5000-series rail cars, has allowed authorities to focus on crime hot spots. They've been able to develop patterns from that and make more arrest, 135 since January 1, all attributed to video evidence.

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