Every day along the MetroLink light rail system, there are a handful of St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department deputies on the platforms and in the trains.
During the roving patrols, deputies can decide to board a train if they see a group of people being unruly, to keep an eye on them, said St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson.
Watson added one to three times a month, deputies will catch someone with marijuana, and three to four times a year they will make an arrest for amphetamines possession.
However, assaults on the MetroLink, such as the one that took place in St. Louis last week, are not an issue on the east side of the river, Watson said.
In light of the recent assault that took place, Metro maintains it has one of the safest transit agencies in the country.
“Incidents like this are pretty rare,” said Metro spokeswoman Patti Beck.
Beck added that in 2012, the Transportation Security Administration recognized Metro for reaching the TSA’s Gold Standard rating for security on the transit system. Metro was one of 17 transit agencies across the country to receive the recognition in 2012.
Even though Metro says incidents on the system are rare, Beck said the transit agency has been in talks about increasing patrols because of violence in St. Louis.
“Some of it spills over onto our property,” Beck said.
Patrols even were increased in the last few weeks as people were off from school and the weather was nice, Beck said.
“We can’t have someone everywhere all the time,” Beck said. “You would like to, but the cost would be prohibitive.”
The transit agency has surveillance cameras on trains, buses, platforms and parking lots. It also plans to spend about $10.97 million on security efforts in the 2015 fiscal year.
Metro’s security budget for the 2016 fiscal year is proposed to be $11.2 million, which includes contracts with St. Louis City Police, St. Louis County Police and the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department. Metro also employs 27 public safety officers and contracts with 110 security officers.
Security questions were raised after an assault on a St. Louis MetroLink commuter last week. Ronald Williams was charged with misdemeanor third-degree assault in connection with the attack.
The victim, who is white, told authorities that while riding the MetroLink train he declined a man's request to use his cellphone.
According to a police account, the stranger then asked the victim what he thought about "the Mike Brown situation," referring to last August's shooting death of the unarmed, black 18-year-old by then-Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who is white.
After the victim said he hadn't given much thought about the Ferguson matter, police said, the man who inquired about the Brown case repeatedly punched the victim in the face as he tried to cover himself.
Video, which was shot on a cellphone and was posted on social media, shows two other men joining in on the attack before the three attackers got off the train when it stopped at the Forest Park platform.
Metro contracts with the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department to provide deputies on MetroLink in the Metro East. Watson estimates Metro pays his department about $1 million a year for the service.
Watson said deputies assigned to Metro security deal mostly with trespassing and disorderly conduct issues, rather than assaults.
“That doesn’t happen here,” Watson said. “I’m not saying it won’t. We (just) don’t have incidents like that. ... We don’t have the issue on this side of the river.”
St. Clair County has 12 deputies assigned to MetroLink security, which is about four per shift, Watson said.
“We have a high presence of deputies riding these trains,” Watson said.
Deputies also are paid to patrol parking lots.
Watson said most issues occur during times of high ridership coupled with special events where people may drink, such as during a holiday weekend or after a baseball game.
So far this calendar year, there have been two forcible robbery reports; an arrest in one of those cases has been made, Watson said.
The most robberies he’s seen in one year is six to ten, but they tend to be committed by the same person or small group. Once an arrest is made, the rest of the year there is none, Watson said.
But there is always vigilance.
“We’re always reassessing what we can do to improve,” Watson said. “In the evening, we’re on extra guard, kind of watching how (people) are acting, always watching for those issues.”