By Jon Hilkevitch and Joe Germuska
Thefts on the CTA, a category that includes the snatches of smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices from transit riders, increased 16 percent in the first nine months of the year compared with the same period in 2011, according to the Chicago police data.
The increase marks a continuing and troubling trend. Thefts, the most reported crime on buses and trains, rose 42 percent from 2009 through 2011, the Tribune reported over the summer.
There is some good news. Robberies on the CTA declined from January through September of this year compared with the first nine months of 2011, although by how much is not clear. The Police Department reported a 25 percent reduction in robberies, but a Tribune analysis using the city’s online crime data portal showed a 13 percent decrease.
Robberies, which involve force or intimidation, increased by 69 percent from 2009 through 2011, a Tribune analysis done this year found.
On Friday, police reported a 20 percent drop in batteries on the CTA system and a 3 percent decline in assaults from January through September of this year compared with that period in 2011. A Tribune analysis using the crime data portal showed a 5 percent decrease in batteries but a 4 percent decline in assaults, slightly better than the department’s official figure.
Statistics on thefts against CTA passengers were not offered by officials during a news conference Friday that spotlighted the decline in robberies while showing off a new high-tech crime video surveillance room at CTA headquarters.
The Tribune later requested data on thefts, and the official 16 percent increase subsequently provided by the police matched what the Tribune analysis revealed.
Asked how the official police numbers could in some cases be different from online data published by the city to inform citizens about important issues, a police spokeswoman said the department “cannot guarantee (the online data) because it is based on what was preliminarily reported.”
“Ours are the official statistics,” said Sgt. Antoinette Ursitti.
Authorities attributed much of the success in reducing robberies to expanded video surveillance at rail stations and on trains and buses, in addition to other crime-fighting strategies. Future plans include programming real-time camera feeds on trains and buses to help authorities catch thieves and robbers in the act of committing crimes or immediately afterward, officials said.
CTA and Chicago police officials on Friday gave reporters a look at the new video surveillance room on the fifth floor of CTA headquarters, 567 W. Lake St. Using the screens in the room, police officers and CTA staff monitor rail platforms and other locations and communicate with uniformed and plainclothes officers across the transit system.
Some 135 arrests, mostly for thefts and robberies, were made on or near CTA property from January through September, CTA President Forrest Claypool said.
James Keating, CTA chief of security, played a police video, shot July 1 at the Red Line Jackson subway stop, showing a team of pickpockets closing in on a target when a train pulled into the station. The video shows one of the perpetrators bumping the victim as he enters the train and an accomplice pulling the man’s wallet out of his right front pants pocket.
Those criminals, who were part of a six-member pickpocket team that worked the Red Line, were subsequently arrested in connection with other crimes, Claypool said.