CTA union leader calls for return of train drivers and reinstatement of disbanded Transit Police unit to tackle spike in crime

A CTA union president on Wednesday demanded that the transit agency bring drivers back and reinstate its own police unit to stop a rise in violent crime and unruly behavior that is depressing ridership and putting CTA employees on edge. danger.

Hours before city and transit officials announce their latest in a series of CTA crime crackdowns, Eric Dixon, president of Amalgamated Transit Workers Union Local 308 , said he would “take what he could get,” including more officers and unarmed security guards. But these alone – what he called “the smoke and the mirrors” – would not be enough.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown, and CTA Chairman Dorval Carter Jr. announced the latest measures at the Chicago/State Red Line stop, and they do indeed include more security guards not armed.

The CPD will also “strategically adjust the resources of the Office of Counterterrorism to better respond to changes in crime patterns” on public transportation, according to a press release. These officers will be divided into teams focusing on gangs and drug-related crimes, and will also patrol train tracks.

“The word is visibility. What we need to do is make sure that on every platform or system, you commuters see the visibility of sworn police as well as these unarmed security guards,” Lightfoot said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot discusses public safety during a press conference with the Chicago Police Superintendent. David Brown (right) and Chicago Transit Authority Chairman Dorval Carter Jr. at Chicago’s Red Line Station, 800 N. State St., Wednesday afternoon.

“And what I will also say to commuters, if you see something on a train or on a bus that you know is unacceptable, please don’t hesitate to call 911 or 311 to report it. We all need to work together to make sure our system is secure. »

Brown said the focus on gang and narcotics activity was due to complaints from “CTA clients that they see drug dealing” and “gang-associated conflict”.

He added, before anyone asked, “What we need to send to CTA to make it safe is the amount of resources we will send.”

With fewer passengers on the CTA for an “extended period” during the pandemic, Carter acknowledged that “some people” determined to commit wrongdoing felt “a little more emboldened to engage in unacceptable behavior” on buses, trains and platforms.

“That’s something we won’t accept,” Carter said, noting that the two new contracts approved by the CTA board would “more than double the resources” devoted to unarmed private security guards.

Speaking directly to CTA riders, Carter said: “I want you to know that we are aware of how some of your riding experiences have changed and are committed to improving it.”

Chicago Transit Authority Chairman Dorval Carter Jr. discusses public safety and improving the commuter experience during a press conference at Chicago's Red Line Station, 800 N. State St. , Wednesday afternoon, March 9, 2022.

Chicago Transit Authority Chairman Dorval Carter Jr. discusses public safety and improving the commuter experience during a press conference at Chicago’s Red Line Station, 800 N. State St. , Wednesday afternoon.

Brown also noted the need to find help for people seeking shelter on the CTA because they are homeless. To do this, CTA officials can develop partnerships with social service organizations.

“I’ve described homelessness as one of the most complex and difficult issues I’ve had to deal with in my career,” Brown said.

“I think the money we are spending at CTA on security services is money well spent, both in terms of the increased visibility it will provide to our customers and also for the ability… to interact with the homeless population and others to provide assistance,” Brown added.

Dixon argued that CTA crime would remain ‘out of control’ until drivers become ‘eyes and ears’ again, at least on subway trains, which would mean the red and blue lines, which are also the only CTA lines operating 24 hours a day. Dixon also wants the CTA to reinstate the internal police unit disbanded more than 40 years ago.

“It doesn’t make sense. Boston, New York, DC, Atlanta, Toronto — all of those cities have their own transit police and we can’t have ours here. When the mayor [Jane] Byrne disbanded that program, the crime wasn’t as bad then as it is now,” Dixon said.

“I have been around for 35 years. You had guys undercover on the subway. As a conductor, I saw them getting on the trains. If something happened, I would say: “In the fourth car, we have a problem. They would go to this car. They would prevent things from happening.

Dixon rejected the CTA’s decision to add more unarmed security guards, calling it a facade.

“A lot of them are young kids walking around with backpacks. They’re on their cell phones. They’re not there to deter any crime from happening,” Dixon said.

“You need someone with authority, so that when someone sees them, they stop doing what they’re going to do. Right now these kids are walking right past them and doing whatever they want. ‘they’ll do. It just puts a band-aid on it.

Turnstiles at the lake station on the CTA red line in the loop.

The turnstiles at Lake station on the CTA Red Line in the loop lead to the subway platform at the bottom. A transit union official says adding conductors to trains, especially on subway lines, is key to tackling crime on the CTA.

Dixon, who invited to Wednesday’s press conference but did not attend, made a similar point about the CPD’s transit unit. He said it was understaffed and dominated by moonlighting agents “working on their days off”.

“It was like 100 officers. We have three shifts: am, pm and midnight. That’s 33 officers per shift for bus and train? It’s not enough. It’s a joke,” Dixon said.

Hours after another CTA shooting — this one Tuesday night on the Red Line at 63rd Street and the Dan Ryan — Dixon said, “Who wants to get on a train or a bus these days if they don’t know not sure if it will be safe or not? »

In a text message to the Sun-Times, Keith Hill, president of Amalgamated Transit Workers Union Local 241, which represents bus drivers, agreed with Dixon that the CTA’s response to rising crime is “the transit police that I’ve been pushing for about four years now.

It’s not the first time Lightfoot has pledged to curb a CTA crime wave that has discouraged people from using public transport.

In January 2020, two months before the coronavirus pandemic-triggered lockdown shutdown sent ridership into a tailspin, the mayor called a three-year increase in CTA crime “totally, fundamentally unacceptable” and swore to master it. with increased patrols and even more surveillance cameras.

At the time, the CTA was struggling to control a 24% spike in crime that sparked 458 criminal incidents on its buses and trains in the month-long period between Thanksgiving and Christmas 2019.

Chicago Police Acting Superintendent. Charlie Beck first asked officers from the SWAT team he called the “best and brightest” of CPD to start driving CTA trains. Then he launched a broader crackdown on violence on public transport.

His larger plan reinforced the CPD’s transit unit by 50 officers, assigned four detectives exclusively to solving CTA crimes, and built a strategic deployment center specifically for transit.

The 200-officer transit unit was increased to 250, freeing up SWAT officers to return to normal duties. They have been reinforced by 50 black agents funded by CTA.

Beck also instructed each of the city’s 22 police districts to perform “platform security missions” multiple times per shift at CTA stations in those districts.

This freed up officers assigned to the transit unit to ride trains, greatly increasing both the perception and reality of CTA rider safety.

“We’re going to hold the districts – the normal geographic commands – primarily accountable for this presence on the platform because I want as many of the 250 cops that will be assigned to the CTA as possible to take the trains,” Beck said then.

The technology extended to officers themselves, who were asked to start wearing tracking devices.

“At the bottom of the CTA, often, their [police radios] does not work. We want to make sure we know where they are so we can protect them,” Beck said at the time.

“It’s not just the number you have. It’s how you use them. And we want to make sure we’re using them effectively in the right places at the right time.

The new Transit Strategic Decision Support Center has opened in the Central Police District. It was funded by a donation from billionaire Ken Griffin, the richest man in Illinois. The center has access to more than 32,000 surveillance cameras on CTA buses, trains and platforms.

“Having a crime analyst there will not only allow us to respond to crime, but also to ensure that we can put people where we think the crime is going to happen,” Beck said at the time.

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