Responding to a spree of brazen crimes that has spooked the public, Chicago authorities announced today that there will soon be many more eyes -- police officers and surveillance cameras -- focused across the CTA system.
Technology will play a leading role in the accelerated pace of security measures on the CTA’s eight rail lines, officials said.
A faster deployment of high-resolution digital video cameras capable of recording even faint facial features from a distance and transmitting the images in real-time to the CTA command center and to police will be used to help deter crime and prosecute pickpockets, robbers and other thugs, officials said.
The move couldn’t happen quick enough for some CTA customers.
“I wish they would put more cameras on the Red Line. That’s where a lot of the crime is occurring and I try to avoid it as much as possible,’’ said Amanda Aguinaga, 22, who was traveling on the Orange Line Monday.
CTA officials said the Red Line is slated to receive more cameras, starting at the Jarvis, Morse, Granville, Bryn Mawr and Argyle stations.
Officials declined to provide a full list of station installations, saying they did not want to tip off criminals regarding stations that do not have extensive camera coverage yet.
Crime, particularly thefts and robberies, has increased this year on the CTA, authorities said, although the Chicago Police Department has not released statistics that the Tribune has requested since last week.
Many of the robbers are targeting people wearing jewelry or carrying certain models of cellular phones and other electronics, police said. Some Chicagoans are taking extra precautions to avoid becoming victims after recent high-profile muggings on Michigan Avenue downtown and the death of a 68-year-old woman this past winter who was pushed down the stairs at the Fullerton “L’’ station on the Red Line by a robber who snatched an iPhone from another commuter.
The number of cameras at CTA rail stations will be doubled by the end of the year, to about 3,000 cameras up from about 1,500 today, CTA president Forrest Claypool said at a news conference at the Halsted station on the Orange Line, where crews were installing cameras Monday.
The move does not increase the total number of cameras, but it shaves almost a year off the installation schedule, officials said. It will mean more cameras installed more quickly at more locations, from station entrances and exits to train platforms.
“We will saturate our system with cameras,” Claypool said, to “catch thieves and hoodlams in the act.”
Each station, depending on its size and layout, will ultimately be equipped with between 10 and 30 cameras, officials said. Most stations now have only one camera, Claypool said.
In addition, increased numbers of uniformed and undercover police officers, mostly cops freed up for the summer from patrolling schools, will roam the transit system in teams dubbed “Wolfpacks,’’ according to Chicago police Lt. John Wittenberg of the public transit unit.
The Wolfpack patrols will be highly visible to the public and decisions on where to pinpoint the extra police officers will be based on a daily analysis of crime patterns along the CTA, he said.
At least one camera has been operating at each of the CTA’s 143 open rail stations since May 2010, the transit agency said. That’s up from only 50 stations with cameras in September 2009, officials said.
CTA cameras helped lead to the arrest of 69 crime suspects on or near the CTA system last year, officials said. So far this year camera footage has assisted in the arrest of individuals in 13 crimes on or near CTA property, police said.
The speeded-up installation announced Monday is being facilitated by about $16 million in federal homeland security grants and by eliminating “red tape” in awarding contracts to pre-approved vendors who will compete to win the installation work, Claypool said.
An additional $6.9 million in federal grants will be used to retrofit older rail cars with cameras, said CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney. About 400 new rail cars that the CTA is ordering will all have the high-resolution cameras, officials said. But initially the recordings will be stored in the cameras’ hard drives for downloading later. Eventually, the cameras on the new 5000 Series trains will be programmed to transmit images in real-time.
All approximately 1,800 CTA buses are outfitted with multiple cameras that store images on the camera hard drives.
The CTA has received a total of $22.6 million since 2006 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for enhanced security measures and surveillance cameras on the rail lines and at rail yards, Gaffney said.
Although recent crimes on the CTA that have grabbed headlines might scare away some people, officials said crime on the CTA system is lower overall than the crime rate citywide, and some regular CTA riders seemed to agree.
“I’ve never had a problem at all,’’ said Rachel Cornelio, 38, who lives in the city and works as an administrative assistant. “But my use of the system is very limited, to the Orange Line between Midway (Airport) and Halsted. I think it all depends on the line you ride and the time of day. I feel pretty safe.’’