During the pandemic, at a time when many Chicagoans are experiencing economic and mental health crises, there has been an increase in violent crime on CTA, including increasingly frequent assaults on public transport workers. . This has led to demands that more be done to protect passengers and employees. Earlier this month, at a rally organized by transit unions, dozens of bus drivers marched from City Hall to Millennium Park, stopping traffic for about 20 minutes on Washington Street and Michigan Avenue, where a bus driver was recently beaten up in a random attack.
Many potential solutions have been discussed by union leaders and public transport officials, including tougher penalties for those who assault public transport workers, the possibility of banning violators of CTA property and a force CTA’s internal police force, similar to the Metra police. However, the addition of more armed personnel to the system creates a greater potential for the application of minor offenses to escalate into bloodshed.
One good practice that local leaders have not talked about publicly until recently is that of unarmed transit ambassadors. On peer systems like the San Francisco Bay Area BART system, these outreach workers have proven to be an effective way to deter crime and promote compliance with important rules, such as mask warrants and smoking bans. These workers receive pre-deployment de-escalation and anti-bias training, and only 1.1% of BART Ambassadors’ interactions with the public involved the Ambassadors calling for police reinforcement.
Earlier this week, Streets finally got the CTA on this strategy. “While CTA is not currently planning a transit ambassador program, we continue to monitor other programs with the handful of U.S. transit agencies that ask them to learn from their experiences,” the agency said in a statement.
We also reached out to local union leaders about the idea of transit ambassadors. Today we heard from Keith Hill, president of Local 241 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents bus drivers. Hill was unfamiliar with the BART program, which is not surprising since BART Ambassadors patrol trains, not buses. But when I explained how it worked, he replied, “Oh yeah, I would definitely support that.”
“We just want to be able to do our job safely and get from point A to point B without a problem. Whether it’s armed or not, we don’t care. We just want to be safe.
Hill said that, in a similar vein, from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, CTA had a training program for bus operators that taught them de-escalation techniques, which he said was invaluable. “It taught you to recognize situations and prevent them from turning out badly. He said he didn’t know why this initiative was cut short.
The union president attributed the recent wave of violence against CTA workers to “frustration, mental illness and general disregard for respect for others”, adding that “the pandemic is playing a major role in this regard”.
He noted that local security companies have offered to provide armed guards to stand at bus stops along routes that have experienced violence issues and to check in regularly with the bus driver, although the guards are not. allowed to enter buses with their firearms. (Streetsblog Chicago does not approve of adding armed guards or police to the system.) “It would be a good start, but it is a band-aid solution to a system-wide problem.”
“To be honest, we need our own police to focus on the CTA issues,” Hill said. “We have no opinion as to whether they are armed or not,” Hill added. “We just want a crime deterrent. “
Hill concluded by saying that the violence against CTA bus drivers “is a serious problem, and we are no longer going to stand idly by and let this seat attack ourselves.” We need to have serious conversations and we need serious solutions. “