CTA reporting rise in robberies

April 24, 2009 (CHICAGO) The CTA calculates that robberies have increased nearly 80 percent in the last few years. And riders are concerned for their safety. One theory for the increase: ridership has jumped because of the weak economy.

The rise in crime on Chicago's public transportation system is of great concern to those who take it every day. It's an even greater concern to transit officials who want everyone to know the CTA is still safe to ride.

Jovanni Brito boarded a CTA train Friday, knowing firsthand how dangerous public transportation can be.

"About a week ago, I saw two people steal someone else's iPod while they were still listening to it. So it kind of hit me that these people are so, you know, so brave as to take that step and actually steal something like that," said Brito.

With the economy still in a downturn, CTA ridership has increased, and so has crime.

"They need to do something. It's terrible. It's kind of frightening," said Ethel Dabney, CTA rider.

According to Chicago police, robberies on CTA trains, platforms, and buses has risen significantly in the past three years, from 246 incidents in 2006 to 436 last year. That's an increase of 77 percent. Thefts have also gone up 6 percent.

The head of the CPD's public transportation section reasoned it's because riders don't pay attention to their surroundings.

"It's all about self-awareness. When you're on the train, don't put on your iPod, sit down, look out the window. Be aware of who is around you. Most of these things that happen with the pickpockets is when you're getting on the train, going up the escalator," said Commander John Graeber, Chicago Police Dept.

Robbery mission teams now patrol public transit during high crime times, just after rush hour and in the early morning.

Transportation officials are working to make trains camera equipped like buses and rail platforms.

"Inside the rail cars, there are no cameras, and we are working as we continue to bring in new rail cars as well. Those new ones will be coming in with cameras installed as well," said Richard Rodriguez, CTA president.

Chicago police are targeting the western branches of CTA's Blue and Green lines where about a fourth of the robberies have occurred.

In the meantime, volunteer crime-fighting group the Guardian Angels say they will be watching as well.

"We're going to try to get each and every member that we have to heighten some of our own patrols and our own visibility out here on the system to make people and passengers feel a lot more comfortable," said Thomas Hunt, Guardian Angels.

Police say passengers should keep their purses and laptops under their arms or feet instead of on seats next to them, conceal jewelry and notput their wallets in their back pockets. Thieves are also more likely to target victims near doors so they can make a fast getaway.

They also say one sure-fire way to spot a criminal trying to possibly target a particular victim is someone who is moving from car to car and back and forth.

The number of incidents in other categories, according to Chicago police, like burglary or assaults, have either gone down or not increased significantly.

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