Violent crime, pre-planned, requires a quick exit not available to mass-transit users.
Other crimes, such as fraud, shoplifiting, and the like, do not. I worked in a bookstore that was a full twenty minutes by bus to the Metrorail, and thence another forty-five to the places the likely suspects were going. Yet it happened almost weekly. Want to know the scams?
A guy, always a guy, usually a big guy, comes in with a forged gift certificate for $100. I don’t know where they get them. He waits for a comparatively slow moment, buys a $5 gift book with the forged certificate, and demands the change. Usually, they were pretty good at picking out the new people; occasionally, they could get threatening. As a minimum-wage cashier, with a wimpy boss and a telephone fifteen feet away, the cashier would usually take the short route and give the fellow what he wants–his change. I sure as hell did.
We tried to make things harder. Anything over $50 on a gift certificate changeout eventually had to be approved by a manager. The chain bookstore down the street would often give us warning, and I have to say that my manager friend would often send these folks into flights of near-rage by attempting to delay them until a) they had to split for the bus or b) the cops got there. Strangely, the cops never did get there. Ever. But often they would ditch the scam and take off for the bus.
The shoplifting side was a joke. Bookstore people just aren’t the kind of folks who will confront a shoplifter. One day, all fifty copies of the latest Walter Moseley novel except the reserves and the displays walked out the door in a duffel bag. (All except mine, that is–I had paid for mine in advance and was a bastard and wouldn’t give it up. He’s well worth stealing, by the way, if you can’t afford his books.) That was impressive, since I had shelved them in three separate places above and beyond the stack. Big nads, I tell you!
Here, in Northern Virginia, the titles most often shoplifted are from black authors. Please, trust me on this: I don’t have statistics, just personal knowledge. I had a little trouble understanding the magnitude of the scheme until several jobs later, when I noticed an impromptu bookstore outside of the Farragut West Metro station, set up on a folding table in between the regular street vendors, about two blocks from the White House. The guy moves around a lot; you never know when you’re going to see him. But there he is every once in a while, with all the popular titles from Angelou to Achebe to Moseley to Powell, at about two bucks under the cover price, or more than what one might pay at my old bookstore–if you were willing to travel that far.