Despite increase in security cameras, ridership down and crimes up on Cermak-Chinatown Red Line

Street-level view of the Cermak-Chinatown Red Line stop, facing east. Photo by Kyle Johnson.

By Karley Fontana, Kyle Johnson and Ren Busch

Running from the southside neighborhood of Roseland all the way to Rogers Park, the Red Line stretches 26 miles over 33 stops, including stops in neighborhoods that are high in violence and crime. The Cermak-Chinatown stop, in particular, has seen a dramatic decrease in riders in 2019, and crime-related incidents are questionably to blame. 

According to the City of Chicago Data Portal, the Cermak-Chinatown stop saw 1,459,134 riders in 2018, an average of 3,998 riders per day

In 2019, the Chicago Transit Authority has calculated 679,945 riders up to June 30, 2019, an average of 3,757 riders per day. These numbers, of course, do not reflect turnstile jumpers. Assuming that the ridership will roughly double over the last half of the year, the Cermak-Chinatown stop will have seen close to 100,000 less riders than 2018. 

In 2018, Chicago saw 319 crimes on or around the Chinatown-Cermak Red Line. 95 of these crimes were filed as assault or battery. 148 of these crimes were robberies or assaults, roughly 46% of total crimes. 

In 2019, Chicago has seen 381 crimes on or around the Chinatown-Cermak Red Line stop, assuming the victims contacted authorities. 135 of these crimes contained assault or battery charges, and 215 incidents were robberies or theft, about 56% of the total crimes. There has also been one homicide. That means there has been a 19.4% increase in crimes at the Cermak-Chinatown stop alone. Are crime-related incidents to blame for this decrease in ridership? 

CTA declined to comment.

Farhana Chowdhury, a junior at UIC, says she uses the CTA every day for errands or hanging out with friends.

“I don’t notice anything bad going on, usually, but I have noticed the [increase in] cameras. That makes me question if the area is bad.” 

Chowdhury also stated that she avoids going to the South Side or taking certain lines at night. 

“It’s better to take an Uber,” she said. 

El stations and buses have seen an increase in HD security cameras in the last year. Photo by Karley Fontana

CTA’s website boasts the safety and security of it’s customers, claiming to have 32,000 cameras across the transit system. According to a May 2018 Chicago Tribune article, the CTA plans to install $33 million worth of new surveillance equipment at El stations over the course of five years.  In April of 2019, the CTA finished installing 1,000 new HD cameras that cost $3.5 million. 

Despite the new camera installations, crime continues to rise across all stops, the Tribune said in a follow-up article. However, in some instances, the cameras have been helpful in apprehending suspects of criminal activity. The suspected killer of the UIC student, Ruth George, who was assaulted and killed in November of 2019, was located and apprehended due to the CTA Blue Line cameras.

Although this particular incident proved that cameras a helpful edition to the CTA rail system, many riders still feel otherwise. 

UIC student Robert Hatch says he drives from home to campus, but he uses the CTA on a regular basis to visit colleagues. 

“There’s been many events, and I have one actually recorded. It was a verbal conversation between two people that sounded like it was going to lead to something bad. I don’t know what the outcome of that was, though, due to me leaving the train. There’s definitely a lot of stuff going on. Pretty much all of the stops are the same, except for the Red Line. Everything on that is pretty dangerous.”

“‘Keep your eyes to yourself,’ that’s what people always say with Chicago, but it’s a little bit more than that,” Hatch said. “There’s a lot of things that you’re not going to normally see when you go on any line, but specifically the Red Line… it’s pretty sad how frequent events like these that I’ve been talking about happen. It happens almost every day. You have to be careful around that.” 

Joanna Li, a resident of Chinatown and employee of Tous Les Jours on Archer Avenue, said she avoids taking the Red Line train when her late-night shifts are over.

“I haven’t witnessed any crimes, but I have heard them happening. I feel safe living in the area I’m in, because I’m not on a busy street. I know that things are happening on busier streets and in the central area of Chinatown, because it’s more crowded and touristy. I have my managers or my parents drive me home when my shift is over. I think the cameras on trains and buses are helpful, but I think maybe CTA should hire more security guards to monitor every stop” she said.

Despite increase in digital security measures, crimes have increased on all El trains, Although riders have decreased in 2019, crimes have remarkably soared on and around the Cermak-Chinatown El train station. If cameras can’t increase the safety and security of Chicago’s citizens, perhaps other measures should be taken. 

Reporting Crime on the CTA

You can report incidents that are non-life threatening to CTA Customer Service 1-888-YOUR-CTA (1-888-968-7282). You also can choose to file a police report by calling the local police non-emergency hotline for the municipality in which the incident occurred (311) or by visiting a nearby police station.