Metro Transit Police coordinate show of force at Prince George’s County stations

More than 100 police officers saturated the 15 Metrorail stations in Prince George’s County during Wednesday’s afternoon rush hour in an effort to deter crime and terrorism, but many riders said such a presence is all too rare.

Assaults, robberies and other serious offenses have surged throughout the transit network over the past five years. Metro Transit Police coordinated the show of force with multiple other jurisdictions.

(Mark Gail/The Washington Post) - Prince George’s County police officer Michael Elser, left, and Cpl. Stephen Vitko at the Cheverly Station.

“This is a symbolic gesture to our customers that the departments are united in their approach to combating crime,” Metro Transit Police Deputy Chief Jeff Delinski said as trains rushed by at Cheverly Station on the Orange Line. “It takes some coordinating to get a detail of this size together,” he added.

Delinski said the security exercise, part of a year-old anti-terrorism campaign known as Blue Tide, involved more stations and officers than previous efforts. It included police from Prince George’s, New Carrollton, Hyattsville, University Park, Mount Rainer, Capitol Heights and the University of Maryland.

Officers spread out along platforms and boarded trains to scan for suspicious activity. They also distributed pamphlets with tips on preventing thefts of automobiles and electronic devices. Thieves have increasingly targeted smartphones and MP3 players in snatch-and-grab robberies.

A recent Metro crime report listed four stations in Prince George’s as having the most incidents of crime among the system’s 86 rail stops: Branch Avenue, Greenbelt and Prince George’s Plaza on the Green Line, and New Carrollton Station, a transit hub on the eastern end of the Orange Line.

Maj. Hector Velez, commander of Prince George’s County Police District No. 1 Station in Hyattsville, said it was helpful for his officers to gain experience with the Metro system.

“When Metro riders come off the train . . . rarely do they see a Prince George’s County police officer,” he said.

Metro has its own force of about 450 officers who police the rail system, dozens of parking garages and hundreds of bus routes in the District, Maryland and Virginia. Since there are more station managers than officers in the system at any given time, Metro police have said they would train stations managers to be more active in reporting and deterring crime.

Still, several riders said they would like to see such a heavy police presence more often. Several high-profile fights in the transit system — some with video posted to YouTube — have attracted attention in recent months. The D.C. chapter of the Guardian Angels announced in March that it would increase patrols on trains and buses.

Sherry Battle, who lives in Landover, said she has witnessed her share of fights on Metro, especially when she lived in Suitland on the Green Line.

The police “need to be on the trains,” she said. “These fights start on the trains and spill over.”

Gail Matthews, a Library of Congress technician who was heading home, said Wednesday was the first time she had ever seen so many police on her Orange Line commute between Laurel and downtown Washington.

“I’ve always questioned why they didn’t have police on the tracks and the cars because of the students and belligerent people,” she said as her train pulled into New Carrollton Station. “I feel there is a strong need to have their presence daily. I don’t want to see them one day and then months later when some incident happens.”

Stephen Bellingereri, a federal special agent, said he thought the show of force would have a deterrent effect. He noted that on his morning commute students aboard the train had been shoving each other and jumping over seats.

“If there was a cop around they wouldn’t have done it,” he said.

At Largo Town Center Station on the Blue Line, six police cars were parked outside the station, three Metro officers were on the platform and a half-dozen Prince George’s police were huddled outside the fare gates.

“I know they can’t be here every day, but it would be good to have them here once or twice a week,” said LaVonne Switzer, a resident of Upper Marlboro.

Don Davis of Bowie said it is so rare to see police that he wondered if there had been some type of incident.

“It’s just not something I see on a regular basis,” he said.

 
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