Metro

Crime last year on MBTA dropped to lowest level since 1997

An officer at Park Street Station. The Transit Police reviewed crime data and made changes to how officers are deployed.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/file 2016

An officer at Park Street Station. The Transit Police reviewed crime data and made changes to how officers are deployed.

Major crime on the MBTA last year dropped to its lowest level in at least two decades, as authorities deployed more officers during peak travel times and cracked down on minor offenses to deter more serious crimes.

In total, 795 property and violent crimes were reported on the subway and commuter rail in 2016, a 21 percent decline from the year before, according to new statistics released Tuesday. That was the lowest number since the current system of record keeping began in 1997, and an official speculated it might be among the lowest levels in T history.

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Transit Police Superintendent Richard Sullivan credited a shift in police resources.

“We overhauled the whole philosophy of policing the MBTA system. It’s clearly paying off,” he said.

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The decline occurred even as MBTA ridership rose to more than 391 million trips, a jump of more than 10 million over the previous year.

Crime dropped across the board, statistics showed. Larcenies declined by 29 percent, and aggravated assaults fell 17 percent. There were no homicides, compared to three in 2015.

Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board,which represents cities and towns that receive MBTA service, said he has noticed the increased presence of officers. Surveys have shown that passengers feel safe on the T, he said.

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“These are remarkably low numbers to have,” he said. “Statistically speaking, it’s unbelievably safe.”

The shift in police resources began last March, when the transit force shifted resources to weekdays, when riders take about 1.3 million trips per day, Sullivan said. On weekends, that traffic drops by upward of 60 percent, he said.

In deciding how to calibrate police resources day to day, the department examined not just overall crime statistics, but peak ridership times, customer volume at different stations, and the number of incidents police responded to over the previous 24 to 48 hours, Sullivan said.

Other factors that affect ridership, such as the weather or even how Boston sports teams are faring, are also considered in making staffing decisions, he said.

The department also stepped up enforcement for minor offenses such as fare evasion, smoking, and loitering by placing plainclothes officers at station entrances.

“A lot of these people who we stop for these minor crimes are wanted for more serious crimes: robberies, assaults, and rapes,” Sullivan said. “We’re trying to keep those people off the system. We believe it’s a very effective tool for transit policing.”

The MBTA’s acting general manager, Brian Shortsleeve, credited Transit Police Chief Kenneth Green. His “year-old patrol plan has resulted in positive change,” Shortsleeve said in a statement.

Stefan Wuensch, who serves on the MBTA Rider Oversight Committee, said he has noticed more transit officers posted at the largest stations and during big events such as the Super Bowl victory parade or storms that caused delays.

New buses equipped with surveillance cameras have also improved security, he said.

“I feel completely safe,” said Wuensch, who commutes from Lynn to Harvard Square.

Larcenies were the most prevalent crime, predominantly bicycle thefts, Sullivan said. The department reviewed theft locations and assigned uniformed patrols to the most common spots, and also conducted a public awareness campaign urging riders to lock their bicycles and register them with Rejjee, a mobile application that helps officers recover stolen property.

The largest jump was in arsons, which rose from one to five. In one case, some juveniles set fire to a piece of paper and threw it into a trash can. Another fire was started by a homeless person, Sullivan said.

Sullivan noted that Transit Police have fielded questions in recent weeks about social media reports suggesting officers were enforcing federal immigration laws. Sullivan said the reports are false.

“Transit police officers do not enforce federal immigration laws in any capacity,” he said. “We are here to serve everybody, regardless of their status.”

If someone is arrested for a violent crime who has a court-authorized warrant on an immigration issue, Transit Police notify federal immigration authorities, he said.

Passengers said they feel relatively safe on the T, even at night.

“I feel as safe taking the train by myself at night as I do walking around,” said Janet Schmidt, 60.

Globe correspondent Maddie Kilgannon contributed to this report. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.
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