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)


Grant

I used to live in College Park, Maryland. We would absolutely have people coming out of Washington, DC to prey upon the drunk and naive students at the University of Maryland.

This is a pretty unremarkable phenomenon. The suburbs are easy targets.

afroblanco

Yeah, I really wouldn't use this as an example of how public transportation can ruin a city or its suburbs.

East St. Louis is the ultimate edge case. It is, quite literally, one of the worst cities in the country. This is even compared to Metro St. Louis, which has it's own share of very serious problems.

Basically, take the worst parts of Detroit, Baltimore, and Camden, put them together in a heavily-polluted city with no tax base or industry, and there you have East St. Louis.

And really, it's kind of ridiculous to say that, generally speaking, a public transit link can raise crime rates. Look, I live in NYC, and am a 30-minute ride away from East New York and Brownsville, some of the worst areas of any city in the US. And does that make the East Village or Park Slope dangerous places to live? Hell no.

To an outsider, the question raised in this article may seem like a legitimate argument. But if you've followed the debate over St. Louis public transportation, you'll see it for what it is - a racist canard. For DECADES, this has been the argument behind not building more public transit options in St. Louis. However, up until now, it was more of something people were kind of embarrassed to discuss in print, because it shows the closed-mindedness and obvious prejudice of the person making the case. I'm surprised to see it in the RFT of all places.

Anyone who knows St. Louis knows that it needs public transit VERY BADLY. The bus system there is deplorable. I always felt sorry for anybody who needed to depend on it to get to work. St. Louis is pretty much an urban planning disaster. Right now, you absolutely need a car to get around. There's really no second option.

(Also, it should be pointed out for non-St.Louisans - East St. Louis actually is not a part of St. Louis. It is a seperate city, in a different state, on the other side of the Mississippi river)

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Jennifer

Check out the crime stats provided in the very same article. The number of arrests was WAY higher a few years BEFORE the light rail opened. Crime rates everywhere rise and fall with the economy, as well. And the Galleria's crime rates declined when they enforced a curfew like many other area malls began to do. I don't doubt that a few troublemakers ride transit who wouldn't otherwise get places, but they will be a proportional percentage of riders who don't cause trouble. And while many in St. Louis would like to blame minorities, the county prosecutors said that theory doesn't hold up based on who he's been prosecuting. I suspect this is just more of the spoiled white brat entitlement we see everywhere, not a race- or transit-related crime bubble.

Stephen Haddad

As mentioned, its all about mixing between socio-economic groups, which rich and middle class people don't like because they want to pretend that everyone has the opportunities they have, but is obviously beneficial to poor and working classes, because theres money available. The reverse happens when middle-class business move into poor, underserviced areas. There is good, in that there is often now a wider array of goods and services, sometimes at lower prices, but some old family owned business will be put out of business, leading to resentment on the part of residents, ignoring the benefits they have reaped.

crimescientist

As a Crime Scientist by academic training I can understand why this problem has appeared. Certain areas can be either "crime generators" such as certain parts of ghettoes, while others are "crime attractors" like malls, parks etc.

Criminals and offenders, teenagers or not, prefer to act in areas where they feel comfortable and familiar with. Public transportation allows people who cannot drive to move about (teenagers for example) so teenage offending should be expected in and around areas they can easy access to, such as schools and malls. In similar fashion, pawn shops in the UK seem to attract robberies as it is easier to dispose goods at a pawn shop when nearby.

The real question is whether the problems "assisted' by public transport are greater than the progress it brings and the ease on peoples lives. Other methods can be employed to reduce youth offending. A few suggestions:

-Playing unpopular music (Chopin anyone?)

-Place benches far and between so two gangs are less likely to spend time close to each other (at the expense of customer convenience)

-make packaging bigger to prevent shoplifting (teenagers lift CRAVED items; Conceilable, Removable, Available, Valuable, Expendable, Disposable) but to an environmental cost.

-Increase policing at certain areas at certain times.

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David

61 Eric D. Dixon,

Sorry, different David Friedman got the hat tip, not Milton's son. He found the article by reading it in the RFT during lunch at Quizno's one day.

B K Ray

I wonder if there was also a corresponding rise in revenues since more people were able to visit the mall.

c. perry

The rabbble should be restricted to specific neighborhoods. We could let them out if they have bus boy or lawn raking or burger flipping jobs. The rest of the time we should keep them out of sight. We could call these neighborhoods ghettos in memory of pre-war Europe.

KOP

These are many of the same children

http://www.kmov.com/localnews/stories/kmov-stlouis-news-081021-hiv-exposure-normandy.134d2e842.html

http://www.kmov.com/localnews/stories/kmov-stlouis-news-081023-hiv-testing-underway.13fd3ebf9.html?npc

and they were the same kids that brought on the mall curfew and are a major part of the crime increase....but don't believe me google your hearts out. By the way the Metro Link runs directly from the Middle and High School right to the Saint Louis Galleria Mall.

Omri

Funny how when those kids were making the lives of other kids miserable (those other kids being Other kids, in East St. Louis), nobody gave a rat's rear end.

Mom of 2 teens

Franny (#38) says that teen crime is caused by the fact that the things that interest teens aren't available to them. HUH? What did teens do in prior generations? What do most law-abiding teens do now? Even if they can't go to health clubs, plays or concerts (how about libraries? TV?), why can't they just hang out with their friends but behave in a civilized manner? I'm tired of people assuming that teenagers can't be responsible -- it just lets the irresponsible ones off the hook.

Eric D. Dixon

The hat tip to David Friedman leads me to suspect that Friedman found the Riverfront Times article by Googling his own name and discovering this blog entry about transit developments in Kansas City that I wrote for Show-Me Daily:

http://www.showmedaily.org/2008/10/anti-light-rail-campaign.html

In it, I quote both the RFT piece and the first paragraph of Friedman's entry about the economics of crime in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics...

JohnMcG

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

Mike

We should take concrete steps to end poverty instead of always demonizing the poor.

Peter

Interesting - my immediate response is to think that these kids either need something to do, or somewhere else to go. The clusterings are created by the available transportation network and regional policies (such as the curfew).

The question for the city as a whole is not how to shuffle the clustering around to different areas (which is what changes in the network are doing) but how to handle it. Two possible options: disperse the clusters or make them harder to form. Personally I think this would be difficult and simply de-centralise the problem (crime or otherwise).

The other option is to re-direct the energy collected in the groups so that it is no vented in distructive ways. I realise that it is more easily said than done, but more analysis needs to be done into why the young people are clustering and whether they represent a resource which can be used (volutarily, of course. Else the cluster will simply displace to another location).

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Jonas

Fear of admitting unwanted lower class people and crime easy access to their posh neighbourhood, residents of Georgetown in Washington, DC, rejected plans to extend Metro to their neighbourhood. It is fun to watch rush hour traffic in Georgetown. If you ride a bike. It's not fun if you have to use Georgetown University's bus shuttle to catch the Metro, and that 7 minute ride extends to an hour long journey.

But those posh moms in their SUVs don't really get it.

nimby

Bravo for such a perceptive post and insightful post. No doubt you will get flak for seeming politically incorrect.

But why stop there? Since improved public transport causes crime in your mall, so too logically do public sidewalks increase crime in my neighborhood. We would be so much better off if we could move toward gated communities with private police forces and razor wire around the perimeters. Parking would be by resident permit only.

I guess the moral is: public transport, public sidewalks, and public parks are all fine, just so long as they are not in my neighborhood. If I can get my share of the best bits by privatizing public spaces, I say down with public spaces!

Quill

During the '20s and '30s, new technology (cars) and expanding infrastructure to serve that technology (highways) allowed an explosion in bank robberies. People could hustle into a bank, take a lot of money and then flee in a vehicle. Once they crossed a county or state line, there was no way to pursue them.

Technology changes the way crime is committed, instead of lashing out at the technology, people should find ways to improve policing.

Jennifer

It's interesting that by comment #53, no one had yet mentioned New York City. It's got the country's best public transport, is probably the most socioeconomically integrated and to my knowledge this St. Louis scenario is not an issue at all. Maybe in the past, but certainly not today.

If only the rest of the country were to become more like NYC!

Q

Actually, the Georgetown myth has been debunked. It was tunnel costs to cross the river at that point that ultimately doomed it.