Could a Public-Transit Boom Result in a Crime Boom?

A new light rail that links East St. Louis to the nearby suburbs is being blamed for bringing urban crime to the suburban shopping malls. From an article in the Riverfront Times:

Ask virtually any store manager at the Saint Louis Galleria about shoplifting, and you’ll invariably get two responses: One, it’s out of control; and two, it’s gotten exceedingly worse since August 2006, when MetroLink opened a stop just 500 yards from the high-end shopping center.

In the first six months of this year, Richmond Heights police made 345 arrests at the mall. That’s nearly double the number of arrests made in all of 2005, before MetroLink opened its Shrewsbury line.

More alarming are the numbers of juveniles (kids under the age of 17) arrested at the mall. This year police are on pace to take 276 juveniles into custody for shoplifting and other offenses — a sevenfold increase over the 39 kids arrested at the Galleria in 2005.

“I know it’s not politically correct, but how else do you explain it?” comments a frustrated Galleria store manager who, like many Galleria shopkeepers interviewed by Riverfront Times, says her employer prohibits her from officially speaking for the company.

“Anyone can see all these people crossing Brentwood Boulevard from the MetroLink station,” the manager continues. “Most of them aren’t here to shop. They’re here to hang out and cause trouble.”

Mall workers say it’s not just shoplifting that’s causing problems. In November 2006 police arrested five juveniles and four older teenagers following a fistfight at the Galleria that involved dozens of minors.

Four months later in March, another fight in the mall — this one involving up to 100 teens — led to three more arrests and the Galleria imposing new sanctions on teenagers. The so-called “Parental Guidance Required” policy, put in place in April 2007, prohibits anyone under age 17 from entering the mall after 3 p.m. on weekends without an adult chaperone.

There’s more:

Now — eighteen months after the Galleria curfew first went into effect — many store owners in University City speculate the ban has resulted in pushing troublemakers six stops up the MetroLink line to the Delmar Loop. Police in University City confirm that they first noticed large groups of teens congregating in the Loop in June 2007, two months after the Galleria imposed its curfew.

In recent weeks, dozens of those same teens have been implicated in violent attacks that have hospitalized people working and living near the light rail stations in the Loop and the nearby DeBaliviere neighborhood.

If the incoming President can find the money, there will surely be renewed efforts to expand public transit in a lot of cities.

There are obvious gains: environmental, less road congestion, fewer accidents, etc. But if St. Louis’s experience is at all indicative, there might also be at least one unintended consequence worth thinking about.

(Hat tip: David Friedman)

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  1. Gabe says:

    This article doesn’t cite an increase in crime- only an increase in crime in a specific area. My hypothesis is that there has been a slight drop in crime in some of the neighborhoods where these kids live. Of course these store managers think it’s an increase because they don’t hang out in those neighborhoods.

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  2. luke says:

    my gut says that the same crimes would probably just happen elsewhere if the bus didn’t stop at the galleria.

    this is just delicate middle class sensibilities being offended because whatever crime happens isn’t hidden from view and instead happens at their “high end” shopping center.

    same basic dynamic at work here as when missing blond white girls get major press coverage. to that end, when was the last time a young black boy’s disappearance was covered on headline news?

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  3. Nick says:

    Cue the whining from about the “evil rich” and accusations of racism….

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  4. Nick says:

    I guess Luke beat me to the punch

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  5. Matt says:

    Public transportation also gives many of the people from the same poor neighborhoods access to better jobs, and retailers with more competitive prices. Any discounter is much cheaper than the small drug stores and corner stores common in urban areas.

    What you are more or less arguing for is that artificial transportation barriers are an effective crime fighting tool. There are more effective ways of dealing with crime than denying poor people access to public transportation. Having simple chaperone policies and enforcing loitering laws can deal with the these problems effectively, with fewer bad side effects.

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  6. JohnMcG says:

    There could also be a perception problem — people see people different from who is usually there, and report it as “suspicious.”

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  7. Jim says:

    My guess is that there would be an increase in crime because it can change risk/reward behaviors of the new entrants as these suburban store owners are selling relatively more valuable items and are less sophisticated in dealing with shoplifting.

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  8. Ben says:

    Perhaps teen labor laws need to be relaxed so these kids can do something more productive with their time.

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