“We should go above and beyond to ensure that whatever service we provide truly considers the least of these: Those who are most dependent on our service to ensure that we are making the best decisions for all,” she said.
Gidigbi’s comment’s came during a presentation at Thursday’s board meeting on updates to Metro’s Title VI program.
Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act protects people from discrimination in programs that receive federal funding. Normally, budget cuts would have to undergo an analysis to ensure they meet Title VI requirements, but the Federal Transit Administration has allowed agencies to forgo such reviews, which Metro says would be impossible because of the emergency nature of its pandemic-related financial crisis.
The transit agency is facing a $212 million budget deficit for this fiscal year and has proposed a slew of cuts. Starting in January, under Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld’s proposal, as many as 1,700 employees could be laid off, hundreds of positions would be eliminated and rail service hours would be cut back, creating longer waits for riders.
Layoffs of unionized employees require at least 60 days notice, and Metro is racing to implement its plan by gathering public input between now and November, when the board will vote on the proposed cuts.
Gidigbi, who represents D.C., which also has the most Metro stations, said the agency should do the Title VI analysis anyway.
“It is a missed opportunity to ensure that we still follow the laws,” Gidigbi said. “The Title VI analysis comes from the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Millions of people have protested and have given their lives to ensure that they could be part of a conversation.”
Board member Greg Slater agreed with Gidigbi.
“I will take a moment and support the comments made by my fellow board member Miss Gidigbi [on] the importance of this Title VI analysis in what we do,” said Slater, who is the Maryland transportation secretary. “I look forward to seeing the work that’s done when we get the budget decisions in front of us.”
Metro officials said they are doing an analysis that is just as thorough, but on a shorter timetable. When he first proposed the cuts, Wiedefeld said he intentionally chose not to cut Metrobus service to ensure the region’s lowest-income riders are least impacted.
According to statistics released Thursday, the percentage of minority and low-income riders has not changed over the past four years. On Metrorail, 58 percent of riders are people of color; people with annual incomes of less than $30,0000 account for 25 percent of customers. The disparity is even more pronounced on Metrobus, where 81 percent of riders are minorities and 46 percent are low-income. Meanwhile, systemwide, 32 percent of customers speak little to no English.
The board voted for the first time in 20 years to update how the agency evaluates whether bus and rail service adequately serve the region. Future evaluations will probably include more factors such as wait times, coverage areas and reliability to pinpoint whether those who need transit service the most are getting it.
As Metro debates how to meet the needs of communities of color during an economic crisis, it’s also working to reform its transit police department, whose officers have long been accused of biased and disproportionate policing of Black customers.
This summer, after the killing of George Floyd sparked Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the country, the union that represents transit police officers said the department’s practices were in need of an overhaul, calling for an end to performance evaluations based on how prolific officers were making arrests, issuing tickets or other enforcement actions. The union said it recognized “the legitimate grievances” of the Black community, and urged Police Chief Ronald A. Pavlik Jr. to work with them to reform the department.
Pavlik told board members that several changes are underway. A police investigations review panel composed of four civilians and three outside law enforcement representatives has been chosen after an application process. Pavlik said the law enforcement members include representatives of the D.C., Prince George’s County and Alexandria police departments. He did not disclose the names of the officers. A request to Metro for their names was not returned.
Meanwhile, board members confirmed four non-police appointees: Chantal Fuller of the District, Sheila Williams of Maryland, Don Nuckols of Virginia and Electra Bolotas, an at-large member. Between now and the end of the year, all members will begin an orientation in understanding how the police department works, including use-of-force training and ride-alongs, Pavlik said. The panel will meet quarterly beginning in January to review internal affairs investigations into alleged police abuse, corruption, bias or harassment, and their terms will expire in October 2022.
Pavlik told board members that a youth services bureau has been created within the department and has started trying to make inroads to build better relationships with teenagers. The bureau has hosted 22 events this year including several outside Metro stations, where officers handed out free popcorn and cotton candy.
A review of the department’s general orders and policies is ongoing, Pavlik said, and a committee is meeting weekly to create new performance standards.
Pavlik said the group is focusing on “getting away from how many arrests or citations an officer has issued, but more importantly, have they completed their paperwork on time? Have they appeared for court as required, did they testify before court?” Pavlik said. “Are they participating in community engagement meetings or are they volunteering for other assignments?
“So we’re looking at how can we measure officer performance, not quantitative, but quality,” he said.
Bulletins have been sent to the entire department reminding officers of when they are legally required to stop and ask for a person’s contact information according to case law to limit unneeded interactions.
Pavlik said de-escalation training is continuing. This year, the department is focusing on identifying and dealing with individuals with mental health issues.
“How do you recognize the mental health crisis?” he asked. “How do you respond to someone with a mental health crisis? That was a focus here in 2020, and we’re going to continue to do that.”
Transit police are also working harder on recruiting more minority officers, as union representatives have called for. Pavlik said the department has hired 13 police officers and five special police officers “to date,” but he did not say how many were women or minorities.