CHICAGO - Mayoral challenger Willie Wilson vowed Monday that if elected he will bring back CTA conductors, resurrect the CTA’s own police unit and supplement both efforts by hiring back retired Chicago police officers to stop a surge in violent crime and unruly behavior that’s keeping riders away and putting employees at risk.
The millionaire businessman embraced the security plan championed by Eric Dixon, president of the Amalgamated Transit Workers Union Local 308. Wilson announced his plan after riding the L from 95th Street to downtown, ending up at the Thompson Center, across the street from Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office at City Hall.
Wilson said he has no idea how much money it would cost to re-establish the CTA Police unit and hire conductors. Nor does he know how many retired cops would need to be hired to support those efforts.
He only knows that, no matter how much it costs, more must be done to stop an epidemic of strong-armed robberies, stabbings and shootings that is scaring the heck out of people who have no choice but to ride the CTA to work and encouraging those who do have a choice to continue to drive to work, or work from home.
"The first duty of a mayor, in my opinion, is to protect its citizens. If she has 71 security officers around her house, why can’t she protect the citizens that get robbed and things of that nature on the CTA?" Wilson said.
"You [used to have] people coming from the suburban areas on CTA. Now, they’re not doing it because they’re afraid of the crime. … A lot of people don’t come to Chicago no more. They don’t even come for tours. I’ve got people who are suburban who are afraid to come. People are afraid. Look how many tax dollars you’re losing just from people who don’t come to Chicago and go elsewhere to shop. You’re defeating yourself right there."
Two months ago, Lightfoot, Police Supt. David Brown and CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. unveiled a plan to "more than double the resources" devoted to unarmed private security guards and "strategically adjust resources" from within the Chicago Police Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism to better address shifts in crime patterns" on public transit.
Brown said on that day the additional officers would be divided into teams focusing on gang and drug crimes in response to complaints from "CTA customers that they see drug dealing" and "conflicts associated with gangs."
Like Wilson, he offered no specific numbers: "As much as we need to send to the CTA to make it safe is the amount of resources we’ll send."
On Monday, Wilson denounced the mayor’s plan as too little, too late, noting not a day goes by without another brazen crime on the CTA.
"Unarmed [security] doesn’t discourage people from getting robbed and raped and things of that nature because there’s a lot of it still going on. I would bring back retired police officers to get a handle on this situation. This is a crisis," Wilson said.
"You find the money for COVID-19. You can find the money for this right here. You found the money to try and compete with me for gasoline cards. You find the money for that. Why can’t you find the money for more [CTA] police officers?"
Pressed on how many officers a revived CTA police unit needs, Wilson said, "We’ll hire enough to make sure we stop this crime. The exact number, I don’t know yet. I’m not in the police department. I’m not the mayor — yet. But we’ll hire enough. We do whatever it takes by all means necessary under the law to stop the crime."
Dixon could not be reached for comment. Nor could CTA spokesman Brian Steele.
Two months ago, Dixon branded the mayor’s plan "smoke and mirrors" and predicted CTA crime would remain "out of control" until the CTA re-establishes the in-house police unit disbanded more than 40 years ago and re-hires conductors, at least on subway routes.
"It makes no sense to me. Boston, New York, D.C., Atlanta, Toronto — all these cities have their own transit policing and we can’t have ours back here. When Mayor [Jane] Byrne dissolved that program, crime wasn’t as bad then as it is now," Dixon said on the day the mayor and Brown unveiled their security plan.
"I’ve been around for 35 years. You had guys undercover in the subways. As a conductor, I would see them get on the trains. If something happened, I’d say, ‘In the fourth car, we’ve got a situation.’ They would go to that car. They’d stop things from happening."
Dixon has dismissed the CTA’s decision to add more unarmed security guards, calling it window dressing.