Metro’s new high-tech new security outpost is the Argus of the Washington, D.C. underground, keeping watch on the region’s sprawling subway through a vast network of surveillance cameras.
Outfitted with dozens of TV screens large and small, the Security Operations and Control Center allows Metro officials and police to monitor station platforms, rails and trains in real time.
But the vast network of surveillance cameras doesn’t see everything. Arguably, it offers more of a reactive approach to security than a visible deterrent. And Metro’s all-seeing eye-in-the-sky — which is located above-ground in Hyattsville, Md. — might not be enough to calm jittery riders after a streak of high-profile assaults.
What riders want to see is more cops riding the rails. Police officers can’t see everything, either. But people can see them– and that includes bad guys. A police officer’s presence can deter trouble, especially inside the trains. After all, that’s where riders feel most vulnerable. And some riders have been feeling more vulnerable than usual recently.
On Jan. 28, six juveniles were arrested following a rush-hour attack on the Red Line at Gallery Place. In that incident, at least 20 teenagers clashed with a 35-year-old man who was exiting the train, and a fight started. On Dec. 21, a man suffered a concussion and broken jaw and collarbone when he was assaulted during rush hour by a group of teens aboard a Red Line train approaching the NoMa-Gallaudet University station. Police have charged a 17-year-old with aggravated assault in that attack.
The brazen attacks have contributed to a perception in the nation’s capital that the subway has become too dangerous to ride, especially when rowdy groups of teenagers sometimes spin out of control and become violent. But Metro officials say they’re also an anomaly.
“There’s no trend,” Metro Transit Police Chief Ronald A. Pavlik Jr. told reporters during a tour of the security operations center last week. He said the Metro Transit Police Department – which has an authorized force of 491 officers — has done a good job reducing crime by using statistical data to identify and deploy into trouble spots. “You’ve got to go back eight years to see crime rates as low as they’ve been the last two,” Pavlik said.
Pavlik and his staff are right to point out that statistics don’t back up perceptions of a crime wave. Yet, the stats also suggest that people still have some cause to be concerned.
Part I crimes — which include offenses ranging from homicide to pick-pocketing — rose 5 percent in 2015, compared with 2014. Robberies jumped by 34 percent to 383 from 285 in the same period; aggravated assaults rose 7 percent to 116 from 108; larcenies were about the same (699 versus 700 in 2014 — though down nearly 13 percent, from a five-year high of 799 in 2011); and pickpocketing rose almost 6 percent 379 from 359. There were two homicides in 2015; none in either of the previous two years.
Keep in mind that ridership over that same period remained flat, and that the previous year, ridership had decreased. It follows that if crime rises while ridership remains the same, there are slightly better odds — slightly, given the scale of the numbers — of becoming a victim.
And, in fact, the crime rate rose to approximately 6.2 crimes per million riders in 2015, up from 5.02 crimes per million riders in 2014, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.
Stessel noted, however, that the crime rate had also fallen to 5.02 crimes per million in fiscal 2014 from 7.12 crimes per million riders in fiscal 2013 — a 29 percent decrease, accounted for mostly by a drop in snatches and pickpockets.
“If you take the longer view, 2015 was still a low year. Of course with the caveat that any crime is one too many,” he said.
That’s why Metro should consider putting more police officers on trains.
Pavlik suggested last week that Metro is even considering changing the police department’s uniforms too so that they’re easier to spot. And who wouldn’t want to see Metro’s finest in hunter orange or hot pink or something flashier than navy blue? Maybe Metro could hire the fashion consultant that outfitted the University of Maryland’s football team.
But it’s enough for now that Metro’s cops are wearing badges, and people like to see them on trains when they’re riding. They just want to see more of them. That’s the easiest way to increase officers’ visibility. It’s certainly not a new idea.
But it’s a good one. Maybe even blindingly obvious.