The Metro transit police, along with the county and municipal police departments in Prince George’s, have announced plans for what Metro calls “a major, high-visibility crime prevention and anti-terrorism event” at 15 stations during the afternoon rush.
This will involve more than 100 officers from the various departments, so expect to see a heavy police presence in the stations and on trains in the county from 4 to 7 p.m.
In a statement, the transit authority says the purposes of the sweep are to look for suspicious activity and raise public awareness about the need to be alert suspicious behavior.
“Officers also will distribute crime prevention information at the stations, providing tips to riders on how to protect themselves and their property while traveling through the Metro system,” the transit authority statement says.
Among the safety tips for riders: Remain aware of your surroundings at all times, report unusual activity or unattended items to the transit police at 202-962-2121 [of course, you can also call 911 to report an emergency], and use the emergency call boxes on the station platforms and aboard the rail cars.
Metro also said that transit police plan to conduct similar events with other local law enforcement agencies.
Many riders will support the type of high-visibility activity described here. While crime remains low in the Metro system, robberies, car break-ins and occasional assaults still are problems, and riders say they would welcome a greater police presence in stations and aboard trains and buses.
Suspicious behavior could involve a person carrying a huge, dripping, stinky backpack — the kind of terrorist threat that security people warn us about — but it could just as well be a person going through a parking garage checking door locks.
But for many riders, the security activities they’ve heard the most about in recent months are the random inspections by police and Transit Security Administration officers of riders’ personal property.
While riders should be concerned about a potential terrorist attack, they are far more likely to tell me that they’re concerned about unruly school kids, or about a nighttime walk from a station to parking garage, or a Metrobus ride at night on certain routes. Some of the rail stations with the highest crime rates are in Prince George’s County.
Transit police reported the three stations that experienced the most serious crimes in 2010 were New Carrollton, Branch Avenue and Greenbelt. Most of the crimes involved property — autos and bikes — rather than persons. See a pdf on the crime report.
Riders want to see the police on the lookout for suspicious activity throughout the system at all hours. Many who oppose the bag inspections — and I’m one of them — ask whether the anti-terrorist officers’ time would be better spent patrolling the system and looking for potential trouble of all sorts.
[1:35 p.m. update]
I asked Metro for a little more background on why today’s activity is in Prince George’s County. Cathy Asato, a transit authority spokeswoman, noted that this is part of a police program called Blue TIDE, for Terrorism Identification and Deterrence Effort.
Asato said that Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn and Prince George’s Interim Police Chief Mark Magaw met earlier this year to discuss law enforcement issues. They decided that a Blue Tide exercise would be a good way to increase visibility and raise public awareness at stations in the county, Asato said.
Transit police have conducted other Blue Tide exercises with Montgomery County police, D.C. police, Amtrak police and other agencies, she said. Transit police plan to conduct similar events with other local law enforcement agencies.