Metro Has A Lesson For Unruly Students

Metro Transit Police officer Andra Vance patrols the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station, a transfer station used by many D.C. students.
Metro Transit Police officer Andra Vance patrols the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station, a transfer station used by many D.C. students. (By Andrea Bruce -- The Washington Post)
By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 21, 2007

When the last bell rings, thousands of District schoolchildren make their way to the nearest Metro train -- their school bus on rails -- where many let loose a day's worth of bottled-up angst, energy and emotion. All that the tens of thousands of other riders want, in most instances, is a quiet trip home.

The tension between the groups has been a long-standing concern for Metro, and efforts to do something about teenagers' rowdy behavior have grown more urgent as problems have escalated. In the past four years, juvenile arrests have nearly doubled, and warnings have increased more than 40 percent.

Today, police and school officials are launching a campaign that they hope will bring more harmony on the rails. The effort, the result of focus groups with students, is called "Respect: Give it. Get it." Instructional cards will be given to students, and posters and radio spots will point out banned behavior in Metro stations and on trains and buses, including eating, drinking, smoking, fighting and running around.

"We want to use this as an opportunity to tell everyone that our customers don't appreciate when kids are sitting on the train talking loudly and using profanity or horseplaying," said Polly Hanson, chief of Metro Transit Police.

Lakeisha Staley, a regular Red Line commuter, said she sees bad behavior all the time. On Monday, two teenage boys on her car were throwing water at each other -- and spraying other passengers -- from bottles. Staley, 29, went up to them, yelled at them to stop and informed the train operator through the emergency intercom.

"They are disrespectful and nasty," she said, getting off at Metro Center to transfer to an Orange Line train to New Carrollton and a bus to her home in Annapolis. "I have a long commute, and I have to deal with this every day."

She grew up in Washington and, as a public school student, rode trains and buses. "But I never acted like this," she said.

There are 34 public and private schools near the 10 Metro stations with the highest student ridership, school officials said. For the past two years, transit police have designated a special unit to focus on inappropriate juvenile behavior, assigning officers to specific schools. Transit police have spoken regularly to students at assemblies at those schools, and each school has a designated liaison with Metro, officials said.

Since the beginning of this school year, District police have hosted a daily 1 p.m. conference call with Metro and school officials. That way, "when we get intelligence from the school that there will be a spillover [at a Metro station], we will deploy more officers in anticipation," said Lt. Kevin Gaddis, a Metro police officer.

School officials say better communication has helped.

"If a student knows that Mr. Jones, his assistant principal, knows Sgt. Jones at Metro, and if that Sgt. Jones calls the school and says he has a disruptive student who has on this color jacket" and requests that the school have a talk with the student, the message will be driven home, said Diane Powell, a senior D.C. schools official.

Most students behave appropriately, even though adults might not agree, Powell said. When they are calling each other names, for instance, "it's not name-calling, the kind that causes a kid to fight," she said. "This is what they do. We all did it. But if you're a person who sees 23 kids from a school, and they're all doing this, it becomes magnified, and adults have a more anxious response."

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