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.
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)