By Yamiche Alcindor
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Jessica Haizlip says she can still see the blood rushing down a young girl's blouse as a schoolmate stabbed the girl at the Minnesota Avenue Metro station six years ago. Haizlip, 20, then a frightened high school freshman, ran from the scene as ambulance sirens drowned out the wounded girl's cries.
"It's really not safe out here," Haizlip, a graduate of Theodore Roosevelt High School in the District, said as she waited recently for a train at the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station. "There is definitely a need for a lot of police officers."
Metro Transit Police hope an initiative to increase the number of officers patrolling rail and bus stations during the hours when students commute will help eliminate the kind of violence Haizlip witnessed.
Officers have arrested more than 260 juveniles this year on offenses including robberies and assaults. Almost every day, officers break up fights, confront rowdy students and patrol high crime areas, Transit Police said.
As part of the surge, officers who usually perform administrative duties are instead patrolling stations with high after-school crime rates, such as Minnesota Avenue, Gallery Place-Chinatown, Metro Center, L'Enfant Plaza, Anacostia and Fort Totten, according to Transit Police.
Officers also take turns riding buses and trains and patrolling bus stops, train platforms and Metrorail station entrances. Riders can call a new hotline, 202-962-2118, to report juvenile misbehavior.
The changes, which began last month, don't require extra funds, Lt. Doug Durham of Metro Transit Police said last week. Metro would not provide details about the number of officers involved in the patrol increases because of security and terrorism concerns, Durham said.
"This has been a challenge for years," he said. "We are trying to reinforce what is acceptable behavior."
Sgt. David Mann said he has seen everything, including public sexual acts and gang fights, at Metrorail stations. The 19-year veteran said the increase in officers during after-school hours could save a life.
"This is to set the tone that if you start cutting up, we will arrest you," Mann said.
Like the other Metro officers, Mann looks for warning signs amid seemingly baby-faced schoolchildren. A hand left too long in a pocket could mean a student is carrying a weapon. A teenager allowing multiple buses to pass could be loitering or waiting for a fight. In a split second, a brawl over anything -- neighborhood turf or an in-school disagreements -- could erupt, Mann said.
"If something occurs in the system, the possibility of victims and innocent people being hurt is higher," Mann said.
Metro Transit Police, school officials and D.C. police share information during a daily conference call to keep officials abreast of any tensions lingering among the thousands of District students. Sharing information is vital, Mann said.
From 3:30 to 5 p.m. weekdays, trains and buses overflow with students speaking loudly and letting off steam after hours in school. Their conversations often annoy commuters hoping for peace and quiet.
Gigi Davis, 47, who rides the train to Rockville every day after work, recently found herself in the middle of a fight. A few months ago, Davis said she witnessed three boys beat up a young man on a Red Line train.
"I called the operator, but by that time the fight was over," said Davis, a public relations representative .
The attack left her shaken and confused, she said.
"No one [on the train] said anything. They just watched. I felt so sorry for him."
She said she's convinced the system needs more officers. "I see kids screaming, yelling, stopping the trains for their friends," Davis said.
Ray Bivins, an accountant who lives in Glen Burnie, also rides the Red and Blue line trains after work. He said the new officers will be welcomed but might not be entirely necessary.
"I think it's just teenagers being teenagers," Bivins, 58, said of students' behavior while waiting for a Blue Line train at Metro Center.
Some students -- such as sophomores TaTyanna Saunders, 16, and Lindsay Taylor, 15, of Cesar Chavez Public Policy Charter High School -- said they try to avoid the troubled stations. The best friends, who get off at the Minnesota Avenue Station, said they go straight home after their commute.
"There's always drama," Lindsay said. "I don't have time for that because I have goals in life. I want to make it to college."