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Metro will deploy more police to buses, trains amid crime concerns

Crime rates on the transit system have declined in recent months but remain higher than before the pandemic

A Red Line train approaches the Rhode Island Avenue station in Washington. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Metro announced Thursday that it will increase police patrols in trains and buses to reassure riders they are safe. Crime rates on the transit network remain above pre-pandemic levels despite declines this year.

The deployments are one part of a revamped safety strategy designed by new Metro Transit Police Chief Michael L. Anzallo that includes education and community outreach efforts.

“While crime is a community and regional concern, customers should feel safe on Metro, and that means using every tool at our disposal including investing in the community and partnering with local resources for essential services,” Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said in a statement. “In addition, MTPD is strategically targeting enforcement efforts in areas where crime has increased.”

Transit agencies across the country are grappling with crime concerns as they try to obtain riders who stayed home or are using cars more often amid a pandemic-induced shift to telework. The shooting at a Brooklyn subway station this month was an unusual outburst of violence but served to crystallize those worries.

Crime is rising on subways across the country, experts say

Metro officials say the enforcement approach will increase patrols by uniformed and plainclothes officers at some stations and in buses, with the goal of providing a high-visibility police presence to deter crime. Shifts will be staggered to make more police available during rush hour, transit officials said.

Wiedefeld briefed Metro board members on the plan during their regular meeting Thursday, but he wasn’t asked questions about the changes.

The other prongs of the safety strategy include QR codes that riders can scan to call the transit police tip line and an anti-harassment public awareness campaign that will launch next month. Metro police also plan to hold community events and build partnerships with organizations to help people experiencing homelessness and mental health crises.

Gaining a clear picture of the prevalence of crime in the region’s transit network is difficult as ridership rates have dropped precipitously since the beginning of the pandemic. Crime fell significantly, too, according to Metro police data. But so far this year, the number of serious assaults has doubled compared with last year, while thefts also have increased.

When taking ridership numbers into account, Metro this month said rates of serious crime are down 36 percent in trains and 7 percent in buses this year compared with last year. Transit agency spokeswoman Kristie Swink Benson said despite those declines, crime rates per million passengers remain above where they were before the pandemic.

“Chief Anzallo looks at all crimes being committed across our system and has made a commitment to address the root causes of crime and disorder to building trust and legitimacy through outreach, education and transparency,” Benson said in an email. “We want our customers and employees to know offenders will be held accountable.”

Despite the renewed efforts, Anzallo recently praised the work of the transit agency’s police force in an interview for an internal podcast.

“We’re probably one of the safest transit zones in the country,” Anzallo said. “A lot of people don’t realize that.”

Metro board scuttles vote on its contentious proposal to ban people for sex crime arrests

Metro’s board blocked a proposal last summer by Anzallo’s predecessor to ban people who were arrested — before any subsequent legal proceedings — for alleged sex offenses and weapons charges from riding Metro. Some experts say a more visible police presence would help to deter crime and make people feel safer, while civil rights activists worry about draconian policing.

Also Thursday, Wiedefeld told Metro board members that wait times for Green Line and Yellow Line trains would be cut from 20 minutes to 15 minutes beginning Monday, the result of more 6000-series cars returning to service.

The long waits on the rail network stem from Metro’s flagship 7000-series cars — which make up 60 percent of Metro’s rail fleet — being out of service for a safety review after a Blue Line train derailment in October. Wiedefeld did not have updates Thursday on when those cars might be ready to return.

The board was also briefed on the second phase of the Silver Line, which Metro is preparing to take over from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is building the line. Metro officials said they don’t have a timeline for when the transit agency will take control of the 11.5-mile extension to Loudoun County.