CHICAGO (CBS) -- Many more eyes are now on the footage from tens of thousands of security cameras across the 'L' system in Chicago.
The Chicago Transit Authority is now outfitting customer assistant booths with real-time monitors. CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey asked Tuesday how the effort might impact crime.
The CTA says the live feeds are now available in the booths at all 146 rapid transit stations. Experts who study crime trends said it is less about whether these cameras actually solve crimes, and more about whether or not they make riders feel safer.
Chicago Police Tuesday released surveillance images of the three men they say robbed a Red Line passenger who was riding a train home from work at the Garfield stop 10 days ago.
According to data analyzed by the CBS 2 Investigators, it was one of at least 650 violent crimes reported on the 'L' system so far this year.
That is compared to just 537 violent crimes reported by this time last year.
The CTA says they're fighting back with the real-time monitors. As of Tuesday morning, each of those customer assistance booths that can be found in between turnstiles is now equipped with a 21-inch display that offers live feeds from that station's security cameras.
"These monitors are an added tool to help our Customer Assistants carry out their myriad assigned duties, which include assisting customers with fares/fare vending machines, answering questions and providing directions, assisting customers with disabilities and more," the CTA said in a statement. "They are not intended to be monitored constantly, as rail station personnel spend a good deal of time in other areas of the station outside the booth. Employees will, however, be encouraged to keep an eye on the monitors when inside the booth."
The CTA said an employee who sees suspicious activity or a crime being committed is to contact the CTA's Control Center – a 24/7 operations center with direct lines to the city's 911 dispatch center – for further instructions.
"Customer Assistants are not expected or encouraged to intervene in any situation that would put them at risk," the CTA said.
We got a look at some of the monitors in action Tuesday, although when we were watching, they weren't being monitored.
The cameras themselves do not appear to be new. Back in 2011, the CTA more than doubled the size of their camera network.
Even more HD cameras were added in 2018.
The most recent total is approximately 36,000 cameras.
But according to our analysis, since 2016, reported incidents of aggravated assaults, batteries, homicides, robberies, and sexual assaults are rising at a faster clip on Chicago's commuter trains than they are in the rest of the city.
Violent Crime on CTA trains vs. Citywide:
So do the cameras actually make an impact?
"Remember it - it's all about perceptions," said Dr. Arthur Lurigio, Professor of Criminal Justice & Psychology at Loyola University Chicago. "If people feel safer, they're likely to feel better."
Lurigio said unfortunately, most of the studies looking at the direct impact on preventing or solving crime are about a decade old — and the results were mixed.
"That area of research has fallen out of vogue," Lurigio said.
He says the impact of the monitors, in particular, need to be studied.
For some riders, there's something comforting about knowing that one more person is watching out for you.
"I do applaud that," Lurigio said. "Having a people connection is probably the best kind of protection that we can provide in these public places."
Viewers have asked us – and we have asked the same question – why didn't these monitors exist before now?
The CTA said in response that it briefly piloted monitors back in 2018, but this is the first time they have had all Customer Assistance booths equipped with monitors featuring live security camera feeds.
The CTA said the addition of the monitors "enhances our Customer Assistants situational awareness and allows them to more efficiently respond to a safety or security issue without putting themselves in a potentially dangerous situation."
Customer Assistance are not required to complete any additional training to use the monitors, the CTA said.
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