Bus brawls on the rise in Chicago: How CTA is responding

WGN Investigates
Data pix.

CHICAGO — Attacks on CTA trains and buses keep making headlines.

At Mayor Lightfoot's request, police have beefed up the department’s mass transit detail.  They credit the move for transit-related crimes dropping 20 percent in the last month.

But for some, that’s too little, too late.

Mary Harvey, 15, was attacked in November by a group of girls as she rode the bus home from school. Harvey suffered severe injuries to her mouth. More than two months later, the high school freshman still can’t eat solid foods.

“I got hit in the head and everything just went black," she said. "And I don't know what happened after that. I woke up and there was blood everywhere.”

WGN Investigates obtained data from the CTA showing the number of reported bus system assaults. There were 73 in 2018, up from 62 the previous year. As of mid-July 2019, there were 47, putting the CTA on pace to surpass the previous year’s total.

The CTA declined to comment on-camera. A spokesperson instead a sent the following statement:

The safety and security of CTA customers and personnel is our top priority. While crime does occasionally occur on CTA buses—as it does anywhere else in the city—overall, CTA is a very safe environment. The 182 assaults in the two and a half years you reviewed (2017-July 2019) were out of more than 600 million bus rides, representing an extremely small percentage of incidence of crime. Additionally, please note that of 2,485 entries for bus-related calls you received on the Control Center spreadsheet, 922 were for equipment defects, 495 were general reports and 252 were service reports.

That said, one assault is one too many, and addressing crime on CTA’s large public transit system is a multi-pronged effort involving CTA employees, private security agencies, a camera network of roughly 32,000 cameras and, notably, city and suburban law enforcement agencies.

Whenever a CTA employee is attacked while discharging his or her duties, CTA works closely with the State’s Attorney’s office to ensure that felony upgrades are aggressively pursued against the offender.

CTA has taken multiple steps over the years and invested significantly in equipment and systems to keep employees safe and is committed to looking for ways to further boost security. Among current protections on buses are silent alarm buttons and bus operator shields. These are leading industry standards for bus safety and operator protection.

In the event of a disturbance on a bus, bus operators are trained to immediately contact CTA’s Control Center by pressing the silent alarm button, which allows CTA staff to hear everything happening on the bus, speak to the operator and contact police. Operators are not encouraged to intervene or in any way put themselves at risk. Bus operators are not trained law enforcement personnel.

CTA’s silent alarms are regularly tested to ensure functionality. During tests, signals are sent from a CTA bus, staffed by garage personnel, and staff at our Control Center ensures that the tests are successful. There are no incidents that staff is aware of where an operator was unable to communicate with Control Center management when they were needed.

When an incident does occur, Chicago Police respond quickly to address the incident. Bus security camera video has helped Chicago Police identify numerous individuals involved in assaults.”

 

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