Statistics on crime on Metro buses and trains

Because of the fatal stabbing on the Red Line in August — the first slaying in the history of the subway since it opened in 1993 — there has been some understandable discussion about safety and crime on Metro buses and trains.

I sat down with Commander Patrick J. Jordan on Tuesday to discuss safety on the Metro system. Commander Jordan serves as the Chief of Transit Police for Metro, a job he has held for the past two years.

The good news: crime is very low on the Metro system — certainly lower than in many surrounding communities. Over the past five years, the number of the most serious crimes has gone down and the number of arrests and citations issued is up.

The bad news: the Metro system is not crime-free and it’s not immune to some of the ills of the cities that it serves. That’s just the unfortunate reality.

The Sheriff’s Department is contracted by Metro to oversee security on the agency’s vast bus and train system. As part of that job, the Sheriff’s Department maintains statistics on crime on the Metro system. I’ve posted several pages from the most recent report — from August — above and below. It’s the first time that Metro has published this type of detailed crime statistics.

Some points from my conversation with Commander Jordan:

•There were 1,216 “part one crimes” reported on Metro buses and trains in 2010 or about 2.77 crimes for every million boardings. Part one crimes include homicide, rape/attempted rape, assault, robbery, burglary, grand theft and petty theft. That compares to 2.63 part one crimes per million riders on the MBTA system in Boston in 2010, 6.68 on the Washington WMATA system and 11.03 on the DART system in Dallas. “Your chances of being a victim of violent crime on the transit system are incredibly low,” said Commander Jordan.

•As the charts lower in this post show, most of the crimes on Metro involve theft.

•On the Metro system, the Blue Line and Green Line have the highest part one crime rates — the Blue Line has 14.3 per million riders and the Green Line has 19.7 per million riders. Commander Jordan attributes some of the Blue Line problems to a small group of people — five were arrested last week — who have been stealing electronics and jewelry from riders. On the Green Line, the crime rates are greatly influenced by car thefts and car break-ins in station parking lots, which are owned by Caltrans. Metro is seeking to become owner of those lots in order to beef up security. Here’s a staff report on the issue that is part of the Metro Board’s agenda at its Thursday meeting.

•How to prevent crime? Commander Jordan has several recommendations:

–Many of the crimes reported on Metro invoke thieves snatching-and-grabbing cell phones or jewelry from riders and then running from a rail station into the less-confined environment of the street. Be careful while talking on cell phones near station entrances and either don’t wear valuable jewelry — especially anything with gold — or tuck it under your clothes or put it out of view.

–If you witness a crime, call the Sheriff as soon as possible at 888-950-SAFE (7233) from either a cell phone or Metro emergency phone and try to note exactly when and where a crime occurred. There are cameras in every rail car and station and noting the precise time that a crime happened makes it much easier for the Deputies to determine if the crime was videotaped.

–If you park your car at at Rail or bus station, put valuables in the trunk or lock them in the glove compartment. It may only be a cell phone charger to you, but that can be easily sold quickly for a few dollars on the street — the exact appeal for thieves looking to fund their drug purchases.

•If you want to compare crime rates on Metro versus crime rates for a variety of neighborhoods in Los Angeles County, here is the crime database maintained by the Los Angeles Times using data from the LAPD and Sheriff’s Department. It’s worth noting that crimes are measured differently. In the database, they’re displayed as violent and property crimes per 10,000 people. Example: The database shows that North Hollywood over the past six months had about 143 violent and property crimes combined per 10,000 residents. The Red Line in August had about 10 part one and part two type crimes combined per million boardings. So the Red Line’s crime rate works out to much less than NoHo as a whole. That’s hardly surprising: there’s one Red Line station in NoHo and the city as a whole is a lot, lot larger than one train station.

•One of the advantages of Metro’s proof-of-payment system is that fare checks are fairly common according to the statistics and allow Deputies to have a lot of contact with riders. That accomplishes two goals: 1) Many fare evaders are caught; 2) Some evaders are also caught for other crimes they’ve committed. It’s the broken windows theory of law enforcement: policing the little stuff helps police the big stuff. By the way, based on audits and fare checks by Deputies, Commander Jordan says that about two percent of Metro riders don’t pay fares but that the real number could be slightly higher.

Here are crime statistics for 2011, through August. It is important to note that some of the numbers on the types of crime change over time depending on the outcome of criminal cases in courts. Part two crimes include battery, lesser sex offenses, carrying illegal weapons and some types of narcotics crimes.

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Charts showing crimes reported in August on each of Metro’s rail lines, the Orange Line and the bus system are after the jump.

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37 replies

  1. “Metro’s proof-of-payment system is that fare checks are fairly common.” I ride the blue line 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year. If fare checks are fairly common, I am a flying unicorn. They happen rarely and usually en masse, which means people commuting from Long Beach to LA are checked at least three times in one day. Then, nada for weeks to months. If there was a more prominent police presence on the blue line, your crime stats and citations would be through the roof.

  2. Criminals won’t get onto the platform and the train stations if it starts to hurt their wallets.

    They get on now because the risk of not getting caught is worth it to make an extra buck.

    If Metro would just hurry up to fix TAP, lock the gates, and move to a distance based model, they can weed out criminal activity drastically.

    Crime happens because a would-be criminal would rather take the risk of getting caught and being slapped with a fine of $250 for not having proper fare. Why? Because that criminal could just as easily come back another day and make $500 in stolen goods to pay off that $250 fine.

    “One of the advantages of Metro’s proof-of-payment system is that fare checks are fairly common and allow Deputies to have a lot of contact with riders”

    The proof-of-payment system is just a euphemism for honor system that’s rarely enforced because it doesn’t make financial sense to staff officers on every train.

    Criminals know when officers will be on the train and once they see them coming, they just get off at the next station over. While officers are interrogating another person, another crime would be committed which can’t be coped because they’re already dealing with one crime.

    Besides, staffing more officers onto the trains is tantamount to becoming a police state.

    There is a better approach to handle criminal activity. Just fix TAP, lock the gates, and move to distance based fares.

  3. I agree with Y Fukuzawa.

    Right now it’s like leaving your front door open and relying on the good faith of people not to come inside your home and steal your belongings.

    And once crime happens, Metro’s plan is to staff the house with a Sherriff officer who’s only there once a month and pay that Sherriff thousands of dollars (in taxpayer money) for that one day.

    The more common sense approach would be to just lock the door to your home.

    But we all know what common sense Metro has. :rollseyes:

  4. @Steve

    No duh, really? So you come to a conclusion of “locking gates still have crime, so might as well not do it?”

    That’s not an answer, that’s typical socialist laziness.

    • Hi Angry Middle Class;

      I didn’t say the gates shouldn’t be locked. I just said that gates probably won’t prevent all crime. Common sense to me, socialist to you.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  5. @Steve

    I’m quite shocked to have such a statement come from one of the editors of thesource. That’s not an answer.

    While locked gates still will have criminal activity (pickpockets in the London Underground come to mind), you have to agree it does add another barrier to criminals entering the station and boarding the trains.

    Anything that reduces criminal activity at a lower cost to taxpayers is a good thing and should be implemented.

    And Y Fukuzawa is right; we can’t staff officers on every train 24/7 just like Y Fukuzawa mentioned.

    Even if locked gates doesn’t solve criminal activity 100%, if it can get it reduced to 50% it’ll do it’s job without resorting to continuously hiring officers 24/7 on every train at higher cost to taxpayers for decades to come.

  6. Some real interesting theory there –

    Locking the gates should help but the poor choice in gate design makes them easy to evade. Metro should have installed London style gates.

    Also distance based fares will not prevent crime.

  7. What the heck is a “Fare Warning”? Steve, is this when a rider is caught without proof of purchased fare, and they are given a warning? If so, what in the world is the rationale for this?

    • Hi Stephen;

      Yes, it’s a warning — just like a traffic ticket warning. I would have to talk to the Sheriff’s office for the rationale but I’m guessing it’s similar to traffic tickets — the officer for some reason doesn’t feel like a ticket is merited. Seems fair (pun intended) enough to me.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  8. […] The Source’s Steve Hymon notes that many Blue Line crimes consist of people stealing electronics or jewelry from other riders, while the Green Line sees many crimes in its vast park-and-ride lots. As far as comparing these stats to other transit systems, LA’s is quite safe, only slightly more dangerous than Boston’s. DC’s transit system sees three times as many serious crimes as LA’s does, and Dallas’s nascent rapid transit system is five times more crime-ridden than LA’s. · Statistics on Metro Buses and Trains [The Source] […]

  9. Thank you for your considerate reply. To me this approach is totally insane. It is moves like these that cause others (see above) to accuse Metro of Socialism. It almost reminds me of the MUNI lines in San Francisco where about 20-30% of the riders (based on my casual observation) totally ignore paying and nothing is ever done about it. A warning implies either a lack of knowledge of a law, or a mistake being forgiven. I find it hard to believe that a fare evader falls into either of these categories.

  10. A huge thank you for publishing these statistics. Very interesting and useful.

    As I said in my op-ed in the LA Daily News (http://www.dailynews.com/opinions/ci_18821819), I believe the subway is quite safe, and it’s nice to see statistics. That’s definitely something about the favorable comparison with Washington’s system.

    On a more minor note, It’s interesting to note in these statistics an apparent lack of citations for illegal vending, given the frequency of which one hears complaints about it on the Blue Line.

    I’m glad bus statistics were included, too — given the characters one encounters on the bus sometimes (especially late at night), I’ve wondered what the emergency response would be like if needed. Interesting to see how in the San Gabriel Valley & Gateway Cities areas it looks like emergency response times can be as high as 14-15 minutes on average (vs 2 to 10 minutes in other areas). Yikes! I’m sure geography plays a role (things can be more spread out), but still….

  11. Can the statistics be broken down by time of day? Taking the Red Line, I find if I leave work by 6pm, I see less issues. If I leave after 8pm, I don’t feel as safe.

  12. I ride the subway every day and we see fare checkers maybe twice a month. Except that they stand outside the station, checking fares as you are leaving the station. I’d much rather they check on the way in because it will prevent some criminals from being able to enter the station and board the train. Or at least may deter them.

    In regards to “Fare Warnings”, I imagine transit officers have some discretion over whether to issue a citation or not. An example would probably be when tourists or riders are trying to get on the Red Line, but end up taking the Purple Line, and then having to go back Eastbound to Wilshire/Vermont. Aside from the electronic headboard, there is no other way to distinguish the Purple and Red Lines and people are always confused.

  13. @the dude abides

    Crime activity does become a deterrent if fare prices are based on distance rather than being cheap as $1.50. Look at Metrolink for example.

    Would a criminal pay $5.00 or more according to distance so as to sneak into Metrolink trains? Probably not.

    But $1.50 “investment” by a criminal to get a potential to snatch $500 in stolen goods on Metro Rail? It’s a good “investment.”

  14. […] The Source’s Steve Hymon notes that many Blue Line crimes consist of people stealing electronics or jewelry from other riders, while the Green Line sees many crimes in its vast park-and-ride lots. As far as comparing these stats to other transit systems, LA’s is quite safe, only slightly more dangerous than Boston’s. DC’s transit system sees three times as many serious crimes as LA’s does, and Dallas’s nascent rapid transit system is five times more crime-ridden than LA’s. · Statistics on Metro Buses and Trains [The Source] […]

  15. […] The Source’s Steve Hymon notes that many Blue Line crimes consist of people stealing electronics or jewelry from other riders, while the Green Line sees many crimes in its vast park-and-ride lots. As far as comparing these stats to other transit systems, LA’s is quite safe, only slightly more dangerous than Boston’s. DC’s transit system sees three times as many serious crimes as LA’s does, and Dallas’s nascent rapid transit system is five times more crime-ridden than LA’s. · Statistics on Metro Buses and Trains [The Source] […]

  16. Frank:

    You assume that criminals act like rational customers. When really higher fares will make no difference to a criminal who’s profit margin is close to 100%.

    Not sure if there is data to support your claim but I venture to guess distance based systems like London will have crime statistics that correlate to their overall crime and not be Nth degree safer due to the distance based feature.

  17. @CC

    Great points on the confusion, I agree. It would be easy to be from out of town and buy a ticket, and then transfer w/o knowing that you need another (or a day pass). Having a ticket shows some good faith. I would be interested in understanding the rationale for a warning when the passenger is 100% without a ticket of any sort.

  18. @angry middle class & Frank M
    If criminals are willing to risk a no proof of fare ticket to board a train, they’re probably willing to risk a hop a fare gate ticket to do so as well. If there was evidence that fare gates would reduce crime “50%” it would be different, but to just assume that doesn’t make much sense. I’d rather have deputies on the trains/buses even if infrequently than a fare gate keeping it’s eye on things.

    BTW, the “lock your front door” analogy doesn’t make a lot of sense if anyone can buy a key for $1.50 at your front gate. Just sayin…

  19. My opinion:
    I do feel safer in the red-line than in the blue line. I hope that MTA does something about it. A difference that I have seen from the blue-line and the red-line is that in the red-line has more security presence; where that is in the stations or outside the stations that have the Sheriff (with dogs), private security, or fare inspectors. Something that blue line lacks of. I have been using the blue-line for 3 years now; I have only seen the dogs once. I think that if in the blue-line has more police presence (not only in the morning hours) and security at the stations such like in the red line crime could go down and make the riders feel safer.
    Inside the train I feel safe but it gets at the entrance of the stations or near the train stations that I get scared. Installing more cameras near the stations entrance and vending machines would be vital to reducing crime including having more staff monitoring the cameras not to mentioned better lighting.

    Thanks for the information and tips.

  20. There’s so many things wrong with Metro, it makes me wonder if the people running them like the status quo of keeping the way as it is because they like the cushy job of being paid with taxpayers money.

    If Metro was committed to actually making public transit better, they would start seeking experienced transit officials from outside the agency, just like the LAPD did by bringig in former Chief Bratton from NYPD.

    I think it’s time for change. We need someone from the outside of LA Metro to fix all that’s wrong with our city’s public transit.

    All this talk about locking fare gates, fixing TAP, going to distance based fares should not take years to do. Why are we even discussing this makes us laughing stocks.

    I say boot out every board member of LA Metro and replace them with experienced transit officials from Boston, New York, Tokyo, London, and Hong Kong. That should bring real change to this messed up agency.

  21. I have never been able to get the $20 million (sent to Sand Diego) turnstiles to assist me or answer a question.

    The LA Metro staff and LASD Deputies/Fare Inspectors however are very responsive.

    And their salaries tend to stay in the local economy.

  22. I don’t think randomized fare checks are a very efficient way to handle fare evaders and criminal activity. I took the Blue Line and the Green Line everyday this week and I have yet to see any single police officer on board the train or at the stations. Because of this, there many illegal vendors and shady activities that are going on that question whether this is really an effective way to stop criminal activity on our Metro lines.

    With that in mind, locking fare gates or adding more officers is a very black-and-white approach and answer to this question.

    How I see it is that it’s a combination of multiple factors that keep transit safer in other cities across the world than ours.

    For example, what differs between Japan and Los Angeles? They use fare gates, they have staffed kiosks next to the fare gates, use distance based pricing, and they have businesses, retailers and merchants operating directly at the train stations.

    Fare gates reduces the number of fare evaders so there’s a layer of security upon entering the station.

    Staffed kiosks to the side of the fare gates add additional layer of security to fare evaders who try to “jump” the gates.

    Distance based pricing adds another barrier by adding to the cost of criminals.

    Promoting retail business activity at the station add more eyes to the stations through employees that operate businesses there. Business owners and employees work there all day so they act as defacto security to the eyes of a criminal.

    Add all these factors up along with some police presence and they create an atmosphere of a secured area where criminals are forced to seek their activities elsewhere.

    One answer may not be the solution, it’s a combination of multiple things. But all of these are things we don’t have at our station so our solution is always “let’s add more police officers” and we end up with a huge public transit deficit.

  23. I used to work for a private security firm and what Y Fukuzawa hit dead on the nail.

    What Y Fukuzawa mentioned is called “security in layers” in the private security industry and it has been proven to be the most effective way to control criminal activity off of a particular area. That doesn’t mean crime will be prevented 100%, but it can be drastically reduced without resorting to becoming a police state.

    To be clear, adding more security doesn’t necessarily mean staffing the place with more officers. A combination of many things can be used to provide security. Fare gates that checks fares of everyone that gets into the station does add a layer of security to ward off would-be fare evaders. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be people that’ll jump the gates. But add a Metro official staffed next to the fare gates and it will add an additional hurdle for a would-be fare evaders to deal with. Along with this, Metro already has surveillance cameras which adds another layer of security.

    Now there might be criminals who actually pays to get onboard to do illegal activity at the train stations. But add businesses to the stations and those criminals have to deal with the uneasiness of being pointed out by a witness who are always there: the store owners and employees of the businesses at the stations.

    If that doesn’t stop that criminal and he decides to make a run for it with his/her loot, the criminal has to deal with surveillance cameras, fare gates and the staffed official next to the fare gates as he/she tries to make a run out of the station.

    On top of all these, have randomized police presence and you secure an area where a criminal would think “going through all this trouble ain’t worth it anymore” and they are shoved away to seek their activities elsewhere.

  24. “But add a Metro official staffed next to the [turnstiles]…”

    Art Leahy has stated time and time again that there is no money for this.

    Unless we are willing to cut more bus routes.

    Or raise rail fares dramatically. Which will kill ridership.

    And remember, none of the surface light rail stations that are not in freeway-medians can or will have turnstiles because of the “attractive nuisance” they would create (passengers jumping up from the tracks to the platforms).

  25. Also don’t expect many retail outlets to start showing up at our rail stations anytime soon. This weak economy is making it difficult for new businesses to start up. Just look at the empty retail spaces on top of the Hollywood/Western and Wilshire/Western stations.

    Union Station and 7th Metro are exceptions due to the high amount of transit activity at those stations that make opening a new business a safe bet at those location..

  26. Let the fare gates or turnstiles check fares.

    Let the sheriffs/ security watch for criminals.

    Don’t make sheriff’s deputies waste their time checking paper tickets or TAP cards.

    If people jump gates, they are criminals.

    I see no reason why the MTA shouldn’t hire people who are not police officers to help answer questions/ solve problems at stations.

  27. Steve: Thanks for posting this information. This is very interesting data.

    Does Metro/LASD plan on publishing detailed crime statistics on a regular basis or is this just a one time thing?

  28. Nice to see some real talk some Steve Hymon in these comments.

    Did you know that criminals regularly pickpocket inside of Disneyland and Disney World? They pay up to $100 to enter the parks but their hauls for the day can be much higher. The same is true on transit systems where thieves operate best in crowded areas.

    That’s not to say I’m concerned that much about pickpockets, but fare gates are not going to stop them.