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Red Line reconstruction raises questions about crime moving to Green Line

Survellance Camersign 69th Street Red Line stop. Firday February 15 2013 | Brian Jackson~Sun Times

Survellance Camera sign at the 69th Street Red Line stop. Firday, February 15, 2013 | Brian Jackson~Sun Times

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Map: Crimes at CTA rail stations
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Updated: March 28, 2013 6:08AM

The five-month reconstruction of the CTA Red Line promises to redirect a tidal wave of riders from the city’s No. 1 line for station crime to its No. 2 one.

In fact, three of the four South Side Red Line stops that will feed passengers by free shuttle into the Green Line during the massive track rebuilding project were among the top 10 in station crime last year.

The fourth was No. 26 of 126 rail stations analyzed during a Chicago Sun-Times examination of online Chicago Police Department data. And while crime increased on all four of those Red Line stops ­­— 95th, 87th, 79th and 69th —­ the lone station expected to receive close to 12,000 newly re-routed riders a day from those four stops saw its reported crime hold steady last year.

That new receiving station, the Green Line’s Garfield/55th Street stop, came in No. 54 in station crime. Meanwhile, the Red Line’s 69th Street station alone — No. 3 citywide for crime — saw a 163 percent jump in offenses.

Security=’No. 1 priority’

The Chicago Sun-Times Tuesday reported that overall crime at CTA stations rose 21 percent last year, even though $26 million in high-resolution cameras was finally in full force. All reported incidents on CTA property and within two blocks of a CTA rail station were scrutinized.

Only 5 percent of the station crime was what the FBI calls “violent,’’ and that saw a decrease of 30 percent. But all other crimes — led by fare evasion and theft — were up 26 percent.

Chicago Transit Authority officials say safety and security will be their “No. 1 priority’’ when the system shuts down nine Red Line stations, from 95th Street to Cermak, from May 19 to Oct. 19. They are working with police on a plan to combat crime during reconstruction.

Come mid-May, passengers at the four southernmost Red Line stops will be offered free shuttle buses to the Green Line’s Garfield station. Riders at other affected stops can take existing bus routes with discounted fares and more frequent runs.

Anyone who walks into the Garfield station during those five months can receive a free train ride anywhere they want on the Green Line — including downtown.

Some wonder whether the Green Line is due for an onslaught of redirected Red Line crime — especially at the Garfield/55th Street station. Will free shuttles and free train rides attract those with crime on their minds?

“Your statistics are alarming,’’ said Donna Hampton-Smith, president of the Washington Park Chamber of Commerce, which includes the Garfield/55th Street Green Line stop.

“If there was crime on 79th and other stations, why wouldn’t [criminals] want to come to 55th Street?’’

1.79 million rider tidal wave

Among the factors that could have contributed to increased station crime last year was a 4 percent rise in ridership, experts say. An even bigger ridership jump is headed the Garfield Station’s way.

During reconstruction, redirected Red Line riders are expected to boost the Garfield station’s daily boardings from 1,300 a day to 13,000 a day, CTA officials say. That adds up to a total 1.79 million additional boarders pouring into the Garfield Station over five months, including the lazy days of summer.

“The numbers indicate the Green Line is bound to experience more crime than it had in the previous summer because we are now bringing in people free of charge,” said Cecilia Butler, president of the Washington Park Advisory Council.

“If they can’t solve crime on the South Side ... I don’t think they will be able to solve crime [during this project].’’

Brandon Johnson, executive director of the Washington Park Consortium, is more optimistic.

If the CTA and police come through with promises of increased manpower, Johnson said, using the Garfield station could actually become “a safer experience.’’

“I’m going to have faith in my government,’’ Johnson said.

“These are professionals. I know they wouldn’t plan something this size, given the time and circumstances we are living in, without taking [safety and security] into consideration.’’

Free ride to State Street?

The Garfield station will receive 17 additional surveillance cameras and extra CTA “customer-facing staff” during reconstruction, said CTA spokesman Brian Steele. Plus, by May, about 80 percent of Green Line trains will feature “5000 Series” cars with seven cameras each.

Garfield station passengers will be able to jump on either Green Line or Red Line trains, but only close to 40 percent of the latter will hold on-board cameras. On-board cameras should increase, however, as the project progresses, CTA officials say.

Tina Skahill, Chicago Police Department chief of special functions, promised an “increased and noticeable’’ presence at the Garfield station. And, Skahill said, undercover and uniformed police will periodically ride free shuttle buses to that station.

During the largest rail reconstruction in CTA history, police will make a daily study of CTA ridership, crime trends, and events that could affect crime or traffic and adjust accordingly, Skahill said. She also expects informational flyers to be passed out, asking customers to keep belongings close and to “see something, say something.’’

Bernita Johnson-Gabriel, executive director of the Quad Communities Development Corporation, doesn’t anticipate criminals will use the free rail rides at the Garfield station to visit the 47th Street station two stops north, in an area her organization serves.

Instead, “I would think if I were a criminal and had a free ride, I would probably ride to a more affluent stop,’’ said Johnson-Gabriel. “I think I’d probably go to State Street.’’

Contributing: Fran Spielman

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