Metro-East News

Here’s the plan to keep you safe while riding MetroLink

MetroLink riders talk safety at SWIC station

St. Clair County IL County Board Chairman Mark Kern has called for more security on St. Louis, MO MetroLink trains that run through southern Illinois that includes stops at Scott Air Force Base AFB, IL, Belleville, IL, Swansea, IL, Fairview Height
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St. Clair County IL County Board Chairman Mark Kern has called for more security on St. Louis, MO MetroLink trains that run through southern Illinois that includes stops at Scott Air Force Base AFB, IL, Belleville, IL, Swansea, IL, Fairview Height

As a response to recent crime along the MetroLink lines, including two incidents where people were killed, allowing law enforcement officers providing security on the light-rail system to cross jurisdictions and controlling access to platforms are part of the framework of a security plan released, this week.

Officials from St. Clair County, St. Louis City and St. Louis County, as well as members of Bi-State Development have come to an agreement on how to improve security along the MetroLink line.

Under the proposed plan, which still needs formal approval from entities like the St. Clair County Board, a joint law enforcement task force with members from all three law enforcement agencies would be created and allow officers from each jurisdiction on the task force to operate in all three areas — St. Clair County, city of St. Louis and St. Louis County.

The formal agreements would probably take at least a month to complete, said St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson.

The number of officers dedicated to MetroLink from each jurisdiction will be increased and there will be enhanced patrols, a news release said. The task force will be headquartered at a dedicated facility at the Delmar Loop MetroLink stop located at Washington University.

The advantage is if there is an incident over here, they could come over and help us and we could do the same with them. If they’re on the train, see someone who is wanted, or maybe commit a crime, they don’t have to stop at the river. They could (continue on the line) and pick them up at the next stop.

St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson

All MetroLink law enforcement personnel will be part of a unified police radio communication system that can receive 911 calls and then be used to dispatch law enforcement personnel.

Watson said the location of the communication system and the price tag has yet to be determined.

According to a news release, St. Louis County Captain Scott Melies will lead the task force. Rail-related safety and contract security will report to a to-be-determined officer from the Metropolitan Police Department, City of St. Louis.

“MetroLink is such an important part of joining our region together,” St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern said in the news release. “We fully support the multi-jurisdictional task force approach as the best way to ensure safety and increase MetroLink ridership.”

The news release said adding a way to physically control access to platforms, such as turnstiles or other measures, also is part of the security plan.

The open design of MetroLink was the region’s least expensive option 30 years ago. Clearly, now the physical aspects of the system need to be re-evaluated and redesigned.

Bi-State Development President and CEO John Nations

The task force will begin working with safety consultants to determine the most effective way to physically control access.

“The open design of MetroLink was the region’s least expensive option 30 years ago,” said Bi-State Development President and CEO John Nations. “Clearly, now the physical aspects of the system need to be re-evaluated and redesigned.”

One of the key components of the agreement is allowing the officers to work in all three jurisdictions.

“The advantage is if there is an incident over here, they could come over and help us and we could do the same with them,” Watson said. “If they’re on the train, see someone who is wanted, or maybe commit a crime, they don’t have to stop at the river. They could (continue on the line) and pick them up at the next stop.”

As part of security efforts, additional deputies working security details paid for by the St. Clair County Transit District started working on Monday, Watson said.

About $300,000 has been allocated for the extra security working from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. everyday.

“It needs to get done for ridership and economic value to the region,” Watson said.

We based the $20 million estimate on putting a law enforcement officer on every train and every MetroLink platform as well as evaluating all options like technology advancements, personnel, as well as studies to look at physical changes to the stations on the system to restrict access. Every option is on the table.

Bi-State Director of Communications Patti Beck

Bi-State Development already pays for 12 St. Clair County Sheriff’s personnel to patrol the MetroLink and platforms on the Illinois side, according to Watson.

Calls to increase security along the MetroLink line have come about since recent incidents took place along the line.

A man in April was shot and killed at the University of Missouri-St. Louis stop in north St. Louis. In March, a homeless man was shot and killed at the Busch Stadium MetroLink platform.

Last month, a man was charged after he allegedly punched a security officer at the Fairview Heights stop.

The Bi-State Development Board recently allocated $20 million as part of its annual budget approval.

“We based the $20 million estimate on putting a law enforcement officer on every train and every MetroLink platform as well as evaluating all options like technology advancements, personnel, as well as studies to look at physical changes to the stations on the system to restrict access,” Bi-State Director of Communications Patti Beck said in an email to the BND. “Every option is on the table. We needed to be in a position so we can work with the jurisdictions to immediately address the security concerns and have resources approved to make the system safer in the short-term and in the long-term.”

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter

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