Someone was shot at a Washington Metro station yesterday. Violent crime on BART appears to be increasing. Emergency calls at Phoenix light-rail stations went up 73 percent between 2014 and 2016. A transit station in Minneapolis is known for “piss, dope, beggars & blow jobs.”
Is crime on board transit vehicles and in transit stations rising, or are news outlets just reporting it more? One answer to this is provided by table 2-38 of National Transportation Statistics, “Reports of Crime by Transit Mode.” Unfortunately, this table only goes through 2012, and the Federal Transit Administration stopped making the data it collects available through the National Transit Database in 2002.
But table 2-38 shows crime falling into three periods. From 1995 through 2001, transit crime was very high, with around 20 homicides, 40 rapes, and 3,000 robberies a year. From 2002 to 2009, crime seems to have have fallen by at least 50 percent, with a couple of homicides, 20 rapes, and 1,500 robberies a year. In 2010, the numbers appear to rise again, though some of the categories are suspiciously low in 2011 and 2012, suggesting that they hadn’t really tallied all of the results.
A note, however, suggests these data aren’t really reliable. “Beginning in 2002, data are no longer collected for the following offenses: Sex offenses, Drug abuse violations, Driving under the influence, Drunkenness, Disorderly conduct, and Curfew and loitering laws,” the note says. “Analysts for the FTA believe the change in reporting requirements in 2002 may have resulted in unreliable data in that year. The reliability of reporting is believed to be much better in 2003 and is expected to improve in the future.”
Yet the low numbers in 2002 are followed by equally low, and sometimes even lower, numbers in 2003 and the next few years. Meanwhile, it is not credible to think that robberies, which had been running between 2,000 and 3,000 a year from 2006 to 2010, would suddenly drop to around 100 in 2011 and 2012.
So, unfortunately, I don’t think the data for any of these years are necessarily comparable to other years. It appears that crime increased after 2002, but numbers before 2002 aren’t comparable to 2002 and later, so we can’t say whether crime is up or down since before 2002. Even after 2002, numbers are only marginally reliable through 2010, and not reliable at all after 2010. Until FTA releases more data, we have no idea whether crime is growing in recent years.
In short, my guess is that crime is increasing and we are not just suffering from a media frenzy. But until the FTA releases more data, we won’t know for sure.