Metro Transit Police will up patrols across the transit system, the agency said Thursday, following a shooting on a Green Line train this week and a spate of recent high-profile assaults.
The agency said deployment will increase on buses and trains and within Metro stations, and officers who are limited to desk jobs, perhaps because of an injury, will be assigned instead to monitor the insides of stations.
The plans were announced Thursday by Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld and Metro Transit Police Chief Ron Pavlik Jr., who said the changes came after consultation with the general manager. The agency said earlier this week that it had beefed up patrols on trains as a result of a recent rash of assaults by young people, and would not further increase patrols as a result of the shooting.
Wiedefeld subsequently met with Pavlik to discuss a response to the shooting and other crimes in the system.
“The chief and I have been working together … I asked him to take a hard look at how we’re applying our resources across the board,” Wiedefeld said.
Plans include reassigning 17 officers from revenue security duties to patrol. The agency said 11 officers will be available immediately and six more will be deployed within two months. Metro said the reassignment will increase the size of Metro Transit Police’s patrol operations by more than five percent.
Pavlik said Thursday about 250 officers patrol the system, which has an authorized strength of 479 officers and a vacancy rate of around nine percent. That means the department is down about 40 officers from its target. The agency attributed the vacancy to the steady inflow and outflow of officers from the department and its police academy, including retirements.
In a news release, Metro said responsibility for securing revenue would be transferred to an outside firm, freeing up patrol officers to focus on traditional police work.
In November, Metro awarded a contract of more than $1.2-million to Rockville-based BTI Security to provide armed security services for its revenue department.
“A secondary benefit of transferring revenue security to an outside firm is that current Patrol Officers will be able to focus on traditional police duties at all times,” the agency said.
Metro Transit Police also plans to implement “power hour” deployments, doubling the number of officers on duty at given times. Officers will be paid overtime to work day and evening shifts at selected times and locations.
“By having the two shifts overlap, the number of officers on duty can nearly double during hours when patrol coverage is needed most (i.e. during late-afternoon and evening hours),” Metro said.
Transit police officers on limited-duty status will be placed in key stations to provide additional monitoring. The stations will be selected based on crime trends, Metro said. Metro said the officers may wear high-visibility vests or be in casual clothing, but can summon on-duty Metro Transit Police officers when necessary using police radios.
Additional measures include targeted train inspections, which are set to begin Friday. Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said at various times of day, several times a week, officers will be lined up on a platform to meet a train pulling into the station.
When the doors open, he said, an officer will step on to each car, examine it and check in with riders, before stepping off.
The announcement came two days after a 24-year-old man was shot on a Green Line train at Anacostia. Pavlik called Tuesday’s shooting a “robbery gone bad,” but would not elaborate.
“There’s a lot of things about that case that we can’t talk about yet. … The nature of events leading up to it are something we have to save for the court system,” he said.
He said shootings are rare on trains, but added that robberies are not uncommon.
“We do have armed robberies. We have all kinds of robberies: snatch of a cellphone; armed robbery, weapon shown; weapon not shown but implied; robbery [by] force and violence — there are all kinds of robberies,” he said.
The increased patrols also follow a series of recent high-profile assaults allegedly committed by youths and groups of high-school-age teens on the system. The suspects in Tuesday’s shooting are 16 and 19. The 16-year-old is the alleged shooter and is being tried as an adult.
Earlier this month, six Wilson High School students were arrested in connection with a morning rush-hour fight at Gallery Place, in which a teenager allegedly punched a 35-year-old man getting off a train. Surveillance footage showed the man being slammed to the ground before the teens rushed onto the train.
In December, a 41-year-old man suffered a concussion and broken jaw after he was assaulted by youths on a Red Line train between Union Station and NoMa-Gallaudet University during the evening rush hour.
And Monday, a 61-year-old visually-impaired woman was swarmed by a group of teenage girls and robbed of her purse as she got off a Metrobus. A bus driver came to her aid and pursued the attackers into the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station where two of the girls — 15 and 16 years old — were arrested by Metro Transit Police and charged with robbery.
Following the attacks, some have called for a more visible police presence on Metro’s rail cars. Pavlik said officers do ride trains, but there simply aren’t enough officers to deploy one to every rail car.
“Foot officers are our bread and butter,” Pavlik said. “They ride trains, they check parking lots, they check stations. You could be on a eight-car train and the officer’s on the sixth car or the seventh car, while something happens on the first car.”
An average of 900 cars are flowing through the system during rush hours. It is “just not a realistic expectation” that a cop can be on every car, he said. Pavlik said Thursday the new measures were aimed at reducing crime, giving officers a more visible presence on the system and combating perceptions that the system is unsafe.
“Perception is one of biggest challenges, and that’s why we have to take every step to reassure our riders that it is a safe place.” One way to do that, he said, is “visibility.” And visibility starts with officers’ uniformed presence, he said.
In addition to the announced measures, Pavlik said the department is exploring other ways to make officers noticeable.
“We’re looking at changing our darker uniforms. … We want to stand out from the crowd,” he said. “We want our riders to really know we’re there.”
Wiedefeld said that while the attacks were brazen, they were not the norm on the transit system.
“Clearly, overall, the system is safe,” he said. “You have these episodic events. And they’re terrible. They’re just terrible. And so we just want assure people that we’re doing everything we can.”