- (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The Metro Board is talking crime again today, and naturally some D.C. publications have already trumpeted the big WMATA news. "Major crime on the Metro falls in 3rd quarter," the Washington Post proclaimed.
But has it?
Yes and no. From January to September, WMATA reports that major crime, which include larceny, robbery, and aggravated assault, has fallen dramatically, more than 20% and from 1,753 in 2010 to 1,398 this year. The lesser crimes have gone up around 9%, now at 4,243. When comparing the third quarter crime data from over five years, however, it's hard to feel crime has dropped too much. In the third quarter, from July to September, there were 495 major crimes that Metro reported — and while it's lower than last year's third-quarter results, it's the second highest number of part 1 Metro crimes recorded in the last five years.
Last year saw a staggering 560 part 1 crimes in Metro's third quarter, whereas there were 339 in the third quarter of 2007, 460 in 2008, and 453 in 2009, all substantially lower numbers than in 2011. In 2011's second quarter, WMATA reported 487 major crimes, also lower than the third quarter's new numbers. Why have these crimes escalated so much, especially since the low of 2007? I wonder whether the economy may have contributed. Other third-quarter highlights: 16,850 calls for service, 446 arrests, 1,897 criminal/civil citations for fare evasion and public conduct violations, and 14 bus operator assaults.
I'll acknowledge that Metro has upped its game in terms of crime-fighting techniques, and they seem to have paid off. Bike crime dropped from 124 during this quarter last year to 100 this year. On November 15, Transit Police arrested a teenager trying to steal a bike by using a decoy bicycle, for instance, at Prince George's Plaza. WMATA has also offered bike theft prevention flyers to bicyclists coming into the Metro. That's encouraging, as is the news that Metro Transit Police made 50 on-the-spot arrests in November and have begun patrolling garages on vehicles known as gators and have begun paying vocal attention to the problem of bus operator assaults. WMATA may not update their blotter anymore but they have succeeded at communicating many elements of their crime-fighting strategy. I can't wait to see the final numbers for the year's fourth quarter, which will include the months in which these tactics were used.
What's less encouraging is that of the 172 major crimes committed in the top-10 most crime-ridden Metro stations this quarter, WMATA only made 13 arrests. In other words, more than 90% of major crimes in those 10 dangerous stations went unpunished. Here's the 10 Metro stations in the system that reported the most crime:
The Metro stations with the most major crimes in 2011's third quarter (July-September)
10. Anacostia (13 crimes, 2 arrests)
9. New Carrollton (14 crimes, 3 arrests)
8. Largo Town Center (14 crimes, 0 arrests)
7. Capitol Heights (15 crimes, 3 arrests)
6. Addison Road (15 crimes, 1 arrest)
5. Greenbelt (16 crimes, 1 arrest)
4. Suitland (18 crimes, 1 arrest)
3. Deanwood (20 crimes, 0 arrests)
2. Southern Avenue (21 crimes, 1 arrest)
1. College Park (26 crimes, 1 arrest)
You can compared this to the 19 most crime-ridden stations in 2011's second quarter here. It's interesting to see how some stations remain as dangerous as the second quarter while the numbers of some have shifted entirely. Gallery Place-Chinatown ranked high in the year's second quarter, from April to June, with 29 crimes, higher than any of these stations in the third quarter, but was nowhere to be found on this quarter's lists. L'Enfant Plaza recorded 22 major Part 1 crimes in the second quarter and eight in the third quarter. Comparing quarters, Suitland ranks four in the list above with major 18 crimes and Deanwood reports 20 ... but look at the second quarter to see that both ranked as the most crime-ridden, tied for 30 Part 1 crimes each. That said, the third-quarter WMATA report also notes that crime doesn't affect most of its riders, particularly compared to regional crime. I'd scoff but I've regularly ridden Metro for a year and half and have never encountered an issue with crime personally.
I wouldn't for a second suggest that the Metro Transit Police have an easy job, however, and despite any worrying statistics, I'm glad for the news of their new security efforts in late 2011. Remember, most crime on the Metro comes from young people, and that poses certain challenges to security, as Chief Michael Taborn explained a few months ago. Recall what that fight looked like on the Green Line earlier this fall? WMATA security poses difficulties. Stay alert — as the Transit Police have warned us, crime tends to rise around the holidays.