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How Has The Pandemic Affected Violent Crime On The CTA? It's Hard To Say For Sure

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A gruesome crime at a Chicago Transit Authority station got us wondering – what has happened to violence on public transportation during the coronavirus pandemic?

Transportation experts told CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey the jury is still out.

The data are promising. This summer, we saw an overall drop in violent crime on the CTA when compared to last year.

But transportation experts warn that the ridership numbers are so different from years past that they will need more time to compare.

Early on Saturday morning, the call at first came in for a man who had fallen onto the tracks near the Cicero Blue Line station along the Eisenhower Expressway on the city's West Side.

But when crews arrived to the 700 block of South Cicero Avenue, they learned the 62-year-old man had been stabbed in the head.

He was taken to Stroger Hospital of Cook County in serious condition.

High-profile violent crimes plagued the CTA in the weeks leading up to the pandemic. But then, CTA ridership plummeted.

Violent crimes remained consistent for the first six weeks of the stay-at-home order. But CTA crime data show that reports of violent crimes have since dropped off.

The CTA credits, in part, a new support center that opened in June that allows CPD direct access to all CTA cameras.

The organization also credits extra manpower.

"This is such an anomalous year," said Dr. P.S. Sriraj, director of the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

We ran the numbers passed Sriraj, who said in order to get a full picture of the crime trends during the pandemic, we need a bigger snapshot.

He also emphasized that we need to remember that the pandemic is not over.

"There's a whole lot of factors that happen that need to be studied more carefully," Sriraj said.

Violent crime is down nearly 16 percent since March, and we also obtained data that shows CTA train ridership was down 77 percent from the start of the pandemic through the end of June.

Dr. Sriraj said that while studies have shown a connection between a drop in ridership and drop in petty crime, "statistically, historically, there's not been anything I've seen that correlates to connection between ridership or violent crime."

He added, "Violent crime typically has a motivation attached to it."

This is the CTA's full statement on the issue of violent crime:

" Throughout the pandemic the safety and security of CTA customers and personnel has been our No. 1 priority. While significant efforts have been made to provide a clean and healthy travel environment, efforts regarding issues of security and combatting crime on the system remain steadfast. In fact, in 2020 there have been several security initiatives introduced including a new, comprehensive public transit safety plan announced in February, which added 50 more officers plus a dedicated detective unit to focus solely on crime activity on the CTA. Then in June, a new Strategic Decision Support Center (SDSC Room) that is dedicated to solving crimes committed on CTA and in the Central District was unveiled. With this new facility, CPD now has direct access to all 33,000+ CTA cameras, significantly reducing the amount of time it typically takes detectives to access valuable security camera footage when investigating crimes committed on and near CTA properties.

"CTA's Security Department and CPD continue to work closely each day, using both historical and real-time information in directing patrols and resources in a more proactive manner. As a result of the extra manpower and improved coordination of efforts, the CTA now has more CPD officers riding the system than before with officers strategically placed throughout the system to prevent incidents of crime, apprehend offenders and also address homeland security issues. Any additional details regarding deployment of police resources will need to be addressed by CPD.

"With regards to ridership, early on in the pandemic, average weekday system ridership was down 80 percent or more. The low points for weekdays during the pandemic were -74% for bus and -90% for rail, both of which occurred during the month of April. With the City's progression into new phases of the Illinois Re-Opening Plan, CTA has seen a slight increase in ridership particularly in June with Phase 3. And since the City's advancement to Phase 4 of the re-opening plan in mid-July, overall ridership has remained steady. For the month of August, the most recent ridership data available, overall system ridership was down 67%, with bus down 57% and rail down 78%."

As for the stabbing this past weekend at the Cicero Blue Line station, at last check, police said they have no suspects in custody and the investigation is ongoing.

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