At Metro, Some Crimes Don't Count
Sunday, November 20, 2005
Metro transit officials undercount serious crime at the region's 86 rail stations, leaving dozens of assaults, robberies and other major incidents off the official tally they report to the system's board of directors and the public.
That practice stems from a long-standing policy not to count crimes handled by law enforcement officers other than Metro's Transit Police, even if the crimes occur in a station or on a subway platform.
For the 18 months ending in June, for example, Transit Police recorded 73 aggravated assaults at rail stations, but they did not include the 21 aggravated assaults reported by other police departments, which brings the total up by nearly 30 percent, according to a review of records by The Washington Post.
Nearly 60 percent of the serious crimes at Montgomery County stations did not show up in Metro figures because they were investigated by local police. Montgomery reported 36 incidents, and Transit Police reported 27.
"We don't really have a clue what's going on," said Charles Deegan, who represents Maryland on Metro's board of directors. "Shouldn't I know what crime is on the Metro? I would insist they add everything together to give us an accurate accounting of crime on the system. "
Metro officials say the policy was designed to avoid double counting. Transit Police Chief Polly L. Hanson defended the policy and said crime on the rail system is low. But the day after an interview with The Post, she asked her police counterparts in the region to forward to her reports on crimes they handled on Metro property. She vowed to start making those numbers public.
Board Chairman T. Dana Kauffman said he wants Hanson to change her reports to the board. All Metro-related crime "needs to be captured," regardless of who handles it, he said. "We're not going to do a Kabuki dance over 'this is us and this is them,' " he said.
The current bookkeeping method raises questions about claims by Metro officials that crime has fallen.
In a July news release, Hanson boasted of a 24 percent reduction in aggravated assaults and a 19 percent drop in larcenies between June 2004 and June 2005. According to the department's 2004 annual report, a larger category of crime on the rail and bus system dropped by 2 percent compared with the previous year -- 1,234 crimes compared with 1,259.
During the 18-month period reviewed by The Post, Metro counted 463 serious crimes at its rail stations, but 98 other, similar incidents remained off its books, according to local police department records. That raises by more than 20 percent the total number of serious crimes -- rapes, aggravated assaults, armed holdups, pickpockets and purse snatches.
Thousands of lesser crimes, including vandalism and urinating in public, also occurred on the rail system during that period.
Many of the most serious incidents, however, were not counted in Metro statistics.