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MBTA reports rise in crimes

Red Line had highest number of serious cases

By Matt Rocheleau and L. Finch
Globe Correspondents / February 5, 2011

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Reports of serious crime at MBTA stations and stops rose 19 percent last year, fueled largely by an increase in thefts and violent crime across the system, according to new data from the transit agency.

Overall, 987 serious crimes were reported in 2010, up from 829 the previous year. Serious crimes include arson, assault, homicide, rape, and various forms of theft. Accounting for the change, violent and property crimes rose 29 percent and 14 percent, respectively, in 2010.

Still, total incidents amounted to the fourth-lowest crime tally in the past three decades.

“When you put that in perspective to the number of passengers we have per day, which is 1.3 million, the number of incidences occurring . . . is very low,’’ Transit Police Chief Paul MacMillan said in an interview.

He said, nonetheless, that one crime is too many, adding that the agency will “continue to work to drive all these numbers down.’’

As in 2009, the Red Line led all subway lines in serious crimes, with 261 incidents, followed by the Orange Line with 202, and the Green Line with 72.

The commuter rail lines also saw increases in crimes, which were up 65 percent, bolstered by a surge in thefts.

Among all T stops, South Station saw the most overall serious incidents. There were 74 reported crimes at the station during 2010, an 85 percent jump from 40 the previous year. A near doubling of larcenies was largely to blame.

“We have seen an increase at South Station of the numbers of larcenies, so that has been an area that we want to target,’’ said MacMillan, adding that it “is one of our busiest stations as well.’’

Some passengers said they were surprised by the statistics.

“I don’t notice [crime],’’ said Alexa Cruz, 16, of Boston, as she waited for a train last night at the Red Line JFK/UMass Station in Dorchester. “In general, I feel safe.’’

Cruz, who uses the subway to go between school, home, and friends’ houses, said the last crime she witnessed on the T was nearly a decade ago when a man in the station robbed a woman of her iPod.

Since then, her rides have remained uneventful, she said.

Standing beside the ticketing machines at the JFK station with her three children and a stroller, 34-year-old Colleen, of Boston, who declined to give her last name, said she was surprised by the statistical jump. She said though she rarely takes the subway, she has never experienced any danger when doing so.

“Today was the first time my kids took the T, and it went so great, they probably wouldn’t expect anything bad to ever happen,’’ she said. “I guess [the amount of crime] depends on the area, but then again that doesn’t seem to matter these days.’’

Patrick Hughs, 23, who lives in Dorchester, said the data are “a little surprising.’’ But at the same time, it seems that more transit police are on duty during the day, he said.

“I would think the later it gets, the more likely crime is going to happen,’’ he said as the bell echoed inside the JFK station, announcing his train.

Other commuters were less than shocked.

The statistics seem typical of the transit agency, said Justin McElduff, a student at Northeastern University, standing with a friend at the station. To him, the MBTA has always been associated with the possibility of crime, the 19-year-old said.

“I’ve always known it’s not risk-free taking the T,’’ McElduff said. “It’s a risk every time.’’

Various forms of theft burglaries, larcenies, and robberies rose across the system last year.

Larcenies increased by 11 percent, robberies jumped 24 percent, and burglaries were up 62 percent.

Transit police noted a rise in cellphone thefts as more commuters carry more expensive devices. Officials have been running awareness campaigns in an effort to reduce the crimes.

“This is a problem, not only for us but many agencies,’’ MacMillan said. “These are a very popular item. . . . People have their cellphones out; it can be easily stolen; it can be grabbed from the hands when the doors open. Or they’re not paying attention because they’ve got their headphones in, and it can be easily stolen that way.’’

Other highlights from the T data:

■ Across the system, assaults rose 39 percent and auto thefts rose 88 percent. One homicide (a bus stabbing) occurred last year, compared with none in 2009. There were three reported rapes, compared with two in 2009.

■ Andrew Station in South Boston saw the most dramatic change. Reports of serious crimes quadrupled to 22 last year, compared with five in 2009.

■ Forest Hills Station in Jamaica Plain saw the most reported assaults, with 10.

Correspondents Sara Brown and Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this report. Matt Rocheleau can be reached at mjrochele@gmail.com; L .Finch at lfinch@globe.com.