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RTD Challenges Figures in Crime Study : But Officials Call for a Special Task Force to Reduce Violence

Times Staff Writer

A controversial study by two UCLA researchers saying that the Southern California Rapid Transit District had vastly understated its crime problem was challenged Thursday by RTD officials who nonetheless called for a special task force aimed at reducing transit crime.

In a formal response to the federally funded study, RTD General Manager John A. Dyer contended that “the dangers of transit crime are probably not substantially greater than the dangers of crime associated with other modes of travel.”

But Dyer told district board members that a task force composed of the RTD, city and county agencies and local police and sheriff’s departments should be formed to grapple with the problem.

A Necessary Step

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“Creation of such a policy task force is the next step, which must be taken if further reductions in transit crime are to be made,” Dyer said in his 38-page report.

That report was spurred by a critical study last April by UCLA urban planning professors Ned Levine and Martin Wachs. Relying on a sample of 1,088 randomly selected households in West-Central Los Angeles, the two researchers concluded that more than 20,000 bus-related crimes took place in that area during 1983.

And they estimated that those crimes committed on buses, at bus stops and traveling to and from the bus stops were 20 to 30 times higher than the RTD had reported in 1983. Many of the criminals, the researchers said, were purse-snatchers and pickpockets, but 25% of the incidents involved violent crimes.

Thousands of Crimes

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Extrapolating from that sample, Levine and Wachs projected that 10,016 crimes took place on buses alone--in sharp contrast to the 843 crimes against drivers or passengers reported by the RTD for its entire five-county service area.

Some transit officials immediately criticized the study when it was released last month, but Thursday’s report was the RTD’s first detailed response to the study.

In presenting his report to board members, Dyer said that while the Wachs-Levine study was a “sincere effort” to tackle the district’s crime problem and some conclusions were “on target,” others “did not bear much relationship to reality.”

Worse for Car Users?

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In his report, Dyer argued that automobile users run a greater danger of crime than bus riders and maintained that transit crime “is not as bad, comparatively speaking, as Levine and Wachs’ report leads one to believe.”

Dyer did agree with the researchers that many bus crimes go unreported. But he disputed their contention that “transit-related crime” in 1983 was actually 20 to 30 times higher than RTD reported. Dyer blamed the difference on the methodology and definitions used by the researchers.

For example, in their report, Wachs and Levine had estimated that 7,919 crimes took place at bus stops and another 5,357 incidents occurred as people walked to or from a bus stop. But RTD officials stressed that their annual crime statistics do not include crimes at bus stops or those involving people traveling to and from buses. And Dyer said the RTD has little control over crime at bus stops.

In letters accompanying the RTD report, both the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department also questioned how the statistics were collected and said that the extent of bus crime may have been exaggerated by the study.

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But Levine said the study was never intended to single out the RTD for blame.

“We took a broader definition in order to see how crime affects patrons,” he said. He applauded Dyer’s recommendation that a task force be formed to deal with the district’s crime problem.


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