Metro-East News

MetroLink study says more collaboration needed to improve security

When securing the MetroLink system, there needs to be environmental changes as well as more collaborative efforts between police and Metro Security, according to a consultant hired to do a security study.

Among the recommendations laid out Friday by New York-based firm WSP USA Inc. are removing conflict between the different agencies from the public realm as well as de-politicizing the conversation of Metro security.

There have been conflicts between MetroLink’s internal security personnel and the police agencies along the line that became public that only hurt in securing the system.

Complaints of St. Louis County Police covering up cameras should have been done outside the public realm.

“Somebody could have walked over to the chief and said, ‘Your guys are screwing off, get your act together,’” said Lurae Stuart, who led the study for WSP. Instead the video was leaked.

At every level there was competition to secure the system, rather than a collaborative effort.

“They lost the focus of securing the system,” Stuart said.

Despite that, Stuart reiterated crime on MetroLink isn’t that bad, as reported in a 2018 investigation by the Belleville News-Democrat.

Now that the study is complete, a strategy needs to be put in place. WSP called for developing a strategic security plan, establishing and communicating roles and responsibilities of security personnel and partners on the system, clarifying legal authority and establishing accountability and transparency, defining clear radio protocols, and improving media relations and messaging, among other things.

Stuart mainly called for defining roles and establishing metrics to help see how efforts are going.

“If you look at it, right now there’s not a lot of definition of what’s supposed to be happening. That’s again the metrics,” Stuart said.

WSP added Bi-State and police should continue working on efforts to share closed circuit television videos.

Taulby Roach is the president and CEO of Bi-State Development, which oversees the Metro system.

“This has been highly collaborative process,” Roach said during Friday’s Bi-State Development Board meeting. “I appreciate the criticism, the good and bad, so we can do a better job.”

WSP recommended that MetroLink security leadership’s approach should be aligned to the overall approach, which helped lead to the ouster of Richard Zott and his top assistant Jason Davis from overseeing security on the system.

They were brought in at a time where was would eventually be a transit police force, which did not take place, Stuart said.

“That’s not where they’re headed now. It was more a matter of alignment,” Stuart said.

WSP also said the different data collected and different definitions used by agencies makes it difficult to get a clear picture of what’s happening and where.

“They have different focuses. Typically a metro system would have a wider suit of data they should be looking at, or would be looking at, of customer complaints, and customer observations as well as actual crimes, and then they would have holistic picture of what’s happening on the system, “ Stuart said.

“We couldn’t find that. We found pieces of it, pockets of it. … We also find that the different law enforcement agencies are gathering different data, because they define it differently. That’s by (jurisdictional) code ... It’s not easy to pull that all together and get a good picture.”

Metro should say what data it wants to gather to help give a focus of what’s happening on the system, Stuart said.

Study gives specific recommendations

She said the best way to enforce fares is with personal contact, engaging with people, and customer interaction. WSP even recommended establishing a desired inspection rate and evaluating targeted fare enforcement areas.

Among the problems WSP found is that machines to purchase a ticket are on the platform at about half of the MetroLink stops, as opposed to being outside the paid-fare area.

She recommended changing some stations to improve sight lines at the stations, and recommended screening off dead space where people may loiter or smoke.

Those spaces can be enclosed and people directed to enter through a specific lane, would help prevent loitering, without installing turnstiles.

“We can put staff there,” Stuart said, who added fare gates are minimally effective. “People just jump the gates.”

Stuart also pushed back against the narrative that people who don’t pay fares are the ones most likely to cause problems.

She said there will be people who will have a disrespect of everything.

“But they’re also just as capable of buying a ticket and causing trouble,” Stuart said. “The drug dealers, they buy tickets. The one thing they don’t want to be tripped over is ‘you check my fare, and throw me off the train. This is my place of business for whatever I’m doing’ … there’s been a lot of discussion of are the fare breakers causing all the trouble. It’s not a correlation.”

Stuart conceded that having the train run through multiple jurisdictions could make enforcing rules tricky.

Along the system, the punishments need to the same for playing loud music, not paying fares or other violations of the code of conduct, Stuart said.

Recently, an agreement was put into place that allows St. Clair County Sheriff’s personnel to ride the MetroLink into St. Louis City to help patrol the system.

“While considerable progress has been made, there is still more to be done,” Roach and Metro Transit Executive Director Jessica Mefford-Miller wrote in a news release. “We will continue to work together with our partners over the next year to refine the security strategy, address the recommendations from the assessment, and ensure our customers and our region have a safe, comfortable and reliable public transit system.”

Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referenda.