Metro to evaluate transit police needs

December 6, 2012

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles on Thursday agreed to evaluate the transit agency’s police department to determine if the number of officers in the force is adequate to protect the Metro system.

“If you ask any police chief, they will always say they can always use more,” said Sarles during a committee meeting of the Metro Board of Directors as he responded to a board member’s question about safety initiatives.

Sarles said the agency’s crime rate remains low, and surveys suggest that commuters have a high sense of security when riding the system.

D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), the city’s representative on Metro’s board of directors requested the assessment of the Metro Transit Police. At a Monday night Council hearing in Southeast Washington, Bowser heard dozens of city residents and Metrobus operators talk about recent reports of rock attacks directed at buses and complaints about the transit police response.

Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn said at Monday’s public hearing that his department is stretched too thin to confront all daily crime. He said he could use more detectives to follow up on some crimes. Of his 450 officers, two dozen are assigned to bus policing. Taborn said the bus division is getting 32 new officers in the coming months.

“I would like to know what kind of analysis we should consider to know if we have the right number of officers,” Bowser said Thursday, adding that the system is growing with the opening of the Silver Line next year.

The transit police oversees the system’s 86 Metro stations and 160 bus lines in a 1,500 square-mile area.

Sarles said the agency has already hired some officers in preparation for the Silver Line opening. Last year Metro increased the number of officers for bus security and other patrols, he said.

“Could we do an analysis that compares us to others?” he said. “We can do that if you’d like.”

Metro officials say cameras have also been added to buses as another security enhancement. By the end of the month every bus will be equipped with at least one camera, said Jack Requa, Metro’s top bus official.

Metro officials say they are also working on improving communications with other law enforcement agencies to make calls for service available to local law enforcement agencies as soon as the calls are received. 

Metro remains a safe place for commuters, and the customers give the agency high marks for safety and security, said Sarles.

A customer satisfaction survey presented at Thursday’s board meeting suggest that riders gave a satisfaction score of more than 80 percent for safety and security on rail, bus and the stations. The survey, however, found lower levels of satisfaction with security at Metro parking lots.  

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
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Mark Berman | December 6, 2012