Metro-East News

What’s the best way to prevent violence on MetroLink? These cities could be models.

MetroLink riders react to ticket checks and security at Fairview Heights station

The MetroLink system normally operates with an open platform, but for about a month, security officers will check fares and monitor fare validation at three MetroLink stations during operating hours.
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The MetroLink system normally operates with an open platform, but for about a month, security officers will check fares and monitor fare validation at three MetroLink stations during operating hours.

As local leaders work to improve public perception of the region’s light rail system, they’ve looked to other cities for advice on how to improve security standards on MetroLink.

Transit security experts from across the country visited St. Louis last week to discuss how security on MetroLink could be improved. Security leaders from Sacramento, Washington D.C., Minneapolis and Portland joined on a panel presentation to local transit authorities from St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Clair County.

The panelists were chosen because they work for light rail systems similar in size and characteristics to MetroLink.

All of the panelists said their police and security personnel focus on customer service-based community policing to increase visibility, deter crime and help riders feel safe. The panelists also urged the St. Louis region to focus on putting police and security personnel on the train itself, not only on the platforms.

All the panelists said their light rail systems have dedicated police forces.

The presentation is part of a $400,000 transit security study commissioned by the agencies that oversee MetroLink. The study, which was approved in March, set out recommendations for improving MetroLink security. The recommendations did not include building barriers and turnstiles, an idea that was popular with some law enforcement leaders but that would have cost $3.6 million, according to Jim Wild, executive director of East-West Gateway Council of Governments.

“We came up with the suggestion that we should ... try to determine what we need to direct our efforts to rather than just come out with a preconceived notion about what we have to do,” Wild said. “If we just pull it back, use about 10 percent of that money or so, we can figure out what our problem is and use the balance of those funds toward recommendations.”

The East-West Gateway is a forum of local governments from the metro-east in Illinois and the St. Louis area in Missouri.

There is no correlation between barriers are reduced crime, according to the study’s lead supervisor, Lurae Stuart.

“It’s really the presence on the train, presence on the system that acts as your deterrence. If you’re doing fare checking at that same time, you’re actually getting both bangs for the buck,” Stuart said. “Fare checking is just a method for that engagement.”

Here’s a look at what transit leaders from other American cities had to say about their own light rail systems and how they compare to MetroLink.

Minneapolis-St. Paul METRO

Capt. Richard Grates, head of East Command for Metro Transit Police Department

  • Internal transit police force for the open light rail system;

  • For the transit system overall, 120 full-time officers and 60 part-time officers are fully-sworn peace officers with the same powers of arrest as other city or county law enforcement agencies;

  • Nearly half of the force is made up of women and people of color;

  • Focus on building relationships between beat officers and neighborhood residents;

  • Public perception is that no one ever pays their fare, but there are numerous ways to purchase fares that riders don’t necessarily see;

  • Fare evasions are a misdemeanor that generally come with a $180 fine. The case goes to the local county courts;

  • “We’ve really had to learn and figure out what our best practices are as things go along,” Grates said. “It really is the community engagement part where you get the buy-in from your ridership, knowing that you’re out there to take care of them, take care of the system.”

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In this Nov. 16, 2018 photo, transit experts from American cities with light rail systems present on how safety and security on MetroLink could be improved. Kelsey Landis klandis@bnd.com

Portland MAX Light Rail

Harry Saporta, executive director of safety and security for Portland’s transit district

  • 68 sworn officers, around 80 security contracted personnel for the open light rail system;

  • 15 jurisdictions provide funding for police force specifically assigned to light rail;
  • Proof of payment, barrier-free system;
  • Contracted private security personnel also provide support;
  • Focus on community policing and customer experience;
  • The district is making an effort toward decriminalizing fare violations, only issuing citations. The violator can pay a reduced fine within 90 days. Violators can perform community service in lieu of paying a fine. If the violator is two-times below the poverty level, the district will void the citation if the violator enrolls in the district’s low-income fare program. If all else fails, the citation can go to the courts.
  • “We want to remain barrier-free because we want to remain open and accessible as much as possible to all,” Saporta said. “It’s not the gate that deters crime. It’s the presence on the system that deters crime. So, all the gate is is a mechanism for fare collection, and in Portland, we have fare inspectors ... That mere presence is what deters crime.”

Sacramento RT Light Rail

Capt. Lisa Hinz, head of security for Sacramento Regional Transit District

  • Around-the-clock dispatch center for the open light rail system;
  • 1,500 cameras on trains and platforms connected to a live video surveillance feed;
  • Dispatchers can view live feed and inform police about activity on the train or platform;
  • Four police agencies fund a police force specifically assigned to light rail;
  • 26 police officers assigned to light rail through those agencies. Each agency provides officers based on what they can afford;
  • Focus on customer service and making sure a uniformed officer is on the train with riders;
  • Use of “weed and seed” tactics to concentrate law enforcement in specific problem areas for crime prevention;
  • Fare violations are civil cases. The region is moving toward decriminalizing fare violation. Judges often throw out cases;
  • Citations can be issued electronically on cell phones;
  • Unarmed contracted private security officers receive special training and focus on fare enforcement;
  • “Your ridership has to be the number one concern,” Hinz said. “It’s their perception. That’s what I learned being in charge of the Sacramento Regional Transit. What’s the perception of the riders and how could I change that?”

Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)

Capt. Steve Boehm of the Washington, D.C. , Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

  • Full, sworn police department dedicated to WMATA;
  • Not a light rail system, does have fare gates because most of the system is underground;
  • Officers focus on being present on trains and checking tickets there, not standing at fare gates;
  • Operates in a bi-state region;
  • Focus on security, high visibility, interaction with patrons, customer service-oriented;
  • “The rail system is a community. It’s a moving community, but it is a community,” Boehm said. “We do policing a little bit different than your local agencies might. We’re not big into the undercover stings, narcotics investigations, stuff like that. We’re more into interacting with the public, getting large amounts of people from point A to point B quickly and efficiently.”

Citizens for Modern Transit will accept public comment on the recommendations for MetroLink through Nov. 30 on an online survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MetroSecuritySTL.

Kelsey Landis is a watchdog and local government reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat. She focuses on informing you about how public figures are using your tax dollars, and that includes keeping an eye out for wasteful spending.


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