CPD, CTA plan security changes as cops expose investigative hurdles

A Chicago Police officer patrols the Belmont CTA station in Lakeview. | File

Chicago police and the CTA will soon announce significant changes in the way the two agencies address safety aboard the city’s train lines, according to police and transit executives.

“We’ve got some stuff in the works,” Anthony Guglielmi, CPD’s chief spokesperson, told us. 

Staffing levels and combining the agencies’ anti-crime efforts are at the top of the to-do list. But no date has been set to announce the changes, he said.

However, some detectives and patrol officers who work the streets say there are other issues standing in the way of safer transportation. 

And, then, there’s the leadership problem. But that part is our opinion, so we’ll save it for last.

Email And Wait

Two Chicago police detectives independently contacted CWBChicago in recent months with similar complaints. The cops tasked with investigating violent crime on CTA do not have direct access to the transit agency’s videos, the officers said.

Instead, detectives must email CTA’s security office with a request for the footage. Depending on which CTA employee gets the request, the detective may get the video quickly. Or, never.

”They have no sense of urgency or concern, by and large,” one cop said of some CTA staffers.

Another cop: “When we request video or photos, a lot of times CTA blows off the request and detectives never get it. We are lucky to get half of our requests fulfilled.”

Kevin Ryan, the CTA’s Vice President of Security, vehemently denies the officers’ claims of untimely responses. His office is available 24/7 and transit security team members can access video remotely around the clock. he said.

Ryan told CWBChicago that he’s short two investigators currently, but he declined to say how many he does have. 

A CTA surveillance camera overlooks the Red Line platform at Lake Street in 2019. | File

CTA also sent CWBChicago a formal statement denying that the agency is slow to fulfill police video requests:

“CTA pulls video as soon as we are made aware of an incident.,” the agency said. “CTA provides video to CPD as quickly as possible whenever it’s requested.”

Yet, when Lakeview residents packed a meeting room at the 19th District police station last month to discuss CTA crime with police and transit leaders, a recent crime victim also referred to the investigative disconnect.

Greg Ignatius was still sporting bruises on his face from the beating he took at the Belmont Red Line station when he told the crowd that the detective working his case said he was still waiting for CTA to provide video of the incident five days after the crime.

Ryan, the CTA’s security chief, told Ignatius the detective may have been “mistaken” and he said he would look into the case.

But timely turn-around of video requests is only one aspect of the challenges cops are facing as they fight CTA crime.

Alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd) visits the 18th Police District’s SDSC room in Feb. 2020 | Ward 2

“Technical issues”

Many CPD district stations have a “Strategic Decision Support Center” or SDSC. That’s a fancy name for a room where police can watch live feeds from CTA train stations and CPD POD cameras.

The recently-developed camera rooms have proven to be highly effective tools.

When a serious crime is reported within range of a CPD “blue light” camera, the SDSC can rewind that camera’s footage and provide field officers with a full run-down on what happened, what the offenders look like, and where they went. They can also quickly send surveillance images of the suspects and wanted vehicles to police in the field.

But if the violent crime unfolds on CTA property, the SDSC room’s options are few.

They cannot rewind CTA video feeds, only watch live. So, officers have no way to determine what happened, who did it, or where they went. All of that must be secured from CTA via email.

Guglielmi confirmed that immediate access to CTA footage is an issue. There are technical and financial issues involved, but the department very much wants to give SDSC rooms the power to quickly review CTA video footage, he said.

Then, there’s this footnote:  The 1st Police District, responsible for patrolling the Loop, Millennium Park, and surrounding areas, doesn’t even have an SDSC room.

“It has more cameras than any other place in the city and huge targets,” one cop bristled. “But they don’t have a camera room.”

“A perception problem”

Now, here’s the opinion section mentioned earlier.

Many folks think CWBChicago was founded out of concern for rising crime. That’s not true.

CWBChicago was founded in 2013 because community policing officers and politicians in the Wrigleyville and Boystown neighborhood consistently misled the public about a soaring, violent robbery problem in the area.

Our founders were motivated not by a rise in violent crime. They were motivated by a willingness to deceive the public while not addressing the issue.

Which brings us to — don’t nod off — the City Council Committee on Budget and Government’s Nov. 4 hearing. All of the police brass were there to pitch the department’s 2020 budget.

Toward the end of his allotted time, Lakeview Ald. Tom Tunney had “one more question” for police leaders.

“We asked last year about crime on the CTA…Huge issue,” Tunney said as he diplomatically expressed disappointment with the answer he got in 2018.

Tunney asked again about CTA crime.

Commander Cindy Sam, head of the police department’s mass transit unit, fielded the question.

“We’re challenged with a perception problem with regard to crime on the CTA,” she began before launching into a list of talking points. 

“99.9% get to their destinations safely,” she said.

“We’re down 20% in crime at this point from last year.”

“We’ve had a lot of success with having officers ride trains.”

“We’ve run over 1,000 missions this year on CTA.”

“We are challenged with that perception that some lines are dangerous, but the numbers just don’t bear that out” when you look at the number of people riding trains, she continued.

Tunney seemed to disagree with Sam. “We definitely have an issue,” he concluded.

Oh, Commander Sam? Reality is calling on line one.

Crimes on CTA trains and platforms — the prime spot for many high profile crimes — has increased 104% since 2015.

At last month’s meeting with Lakeview residents, Sam again claimed that crime dropped sharply on CTA last year. 

As she said that, she was in the same room where, following yet another CAPS meeting filled with misinformation and denials about violent crime in Wrigleyville an Boystown, our five founders in 2012 planted the seed that would become CWBChicago.

It’s been a while since we have called out an individual police leader. But if Chicago’s going to get serious about crime on the CTA, Commander Cindy Sam is the wrong person to lead the charge.

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About CWBChicago 6689 Articles
CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com