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Keeping watch over mass transit.

Keeping Watch Over MASS TRANSIT

TRANSIT SYSTEM SECUrity conjures up thoughts of the Bernhard Goetz subway shooting incident along with visions of grafitti-covered New York subway cars. The public perceives the transit system to be rampant with crime. However, many systems are relatively safe and even pleasant to use. The Boston and Washington, DC, subways, the Philadelphia-Lindenwold, NJ, line, and the San Francisco-East Bay rapid transit routes are a few examples.

About 20 city transit systems and commuter railroads in the United States have in-house police forces. Four of these systems use off-duty municipal police officers on a part-time basis. The Portland, OR, transit system contracts with the state police to patrol its transit lines. Dallas, St. Louis, Detroit, and Tampa are currently moving toward full-time in-house transit police. Five cities with local police units dedicated solely to the transit system are Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago, New Orleans, and Detroit.

While most larger systems have in-house transit police, private security professionals are frequently consulted, particularly when transit systems are faced with crime scandals. New rail line construction also leads to security studies for recommendations on physical security hardware and facility design features that enhance passenger security. In jurisdictions where a transit system can be held liable for negligence in attacks on passengers, security professionals are often called on for expert opinions in civil lawsuits.

The following is an examination of three real-life cases of transit crime that lend themselves to an evaluation of security measures and possible system improvements. Also included are a summary of current trends in transit policing and references to transit security information sources.

On a pleasant Sunday morning in late spring, a father sees his daughter, a medical student, to a bus stop and safely aboard a bus. The young woman is going to transfer to a rail rapid transit line for a trip to her medical school. At the same time, three teenage girls enter the rapid transit station the medical student is bound for. One of the teens is frightened by a hostile look from a man loitering on the platform. No ticket agent is on duty at the station.

A train comes. The girls board the lead car and sit across from the driver's cab. The frightened teenager wants to tell someone about the man on the platform, but a sign on the driver's cab warns passengers not to talk to the driver for safety reasons. The teenager doesn't report her fears.

The medical student gets off her bus just as the train with the teens aboard is pulling out of the station. As the medical student reaches the platform, she is abducted by the loiterer and taken to an infrequently used secondary entrance of the station. There she is sexually assaulted. As the medical student and the assailant stand facing each other in the secondary entrance, a young man enters. The assailant wheels around and stabs the young man, who flees toward the main entrance a quarter mile away where he knows there is a telephone. The assailant fatally slashes and stabs the medical student and flees. The attack has lasted about 25 minutes.(1)

What stands out about this incident is the failure of the teenager to report her fear of the man loitering on the platform. The sign on the driver's cab discouraged her from making a report. A balance must be struck between safe operating rules and passenger protection.

The station also lacked closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance and an emergency intercom system. The secondary entrance had been the scene of another abduction-murder several years earlier. Statistics showed a number of sexual assaults and other crimes had occurred at the staion, but the transit system made no effort to keep or evaluate crime statistics. Consequently, no action was taken to counteract an obvious threat.

It is approaching midnight as a bus driver heads downtown through a high-crime area. Six or seven passengers are aboard, and the driver is talking to a regular rider who happens to be an armed security officer. Somewhere along the way an unusually dressed man carrying a paper bag boards the bus and sits in the backseat. A little later, the unusual dresser moves up a few seats. Next, he approaches the passenger closest to him and slaps the man a few times.

The assailant goes back to his seat and gets a hatchet out of the paper bag. He then returns to the bewildered victim and begins to attack him with the hatchet. The driver is still engaged in conversation and hasn't checked his interior mirrors. The victim never utters a sound.

Another passenger sees the hatchet attack begin. He sits momentarily frozen but recovers and runs screaming to the front of the bus. The driver comes to a smooth halt at the next bus stop. Everyone but the assailant and the victim leave the bus. The victim died from several hatchet blows to the head.(2)

This incident points out the need for alert transit employees who are trained in crime prevention. This particular bus driver had received the usual training in bus driving skills, rules for punching transfers, and transit system operating practices - but no instruction in dealing with transit crime problems.

The driver should have noted the initial slapping episode and called for police then, which he would have done if he had been alert and checking his interior mirrors. The driver could possibly have saved the victim from fatal injury by jamming on the bus brakes to knock down the standing assailant. However, drivers are trained to bring buses to a smooth halt and only at bus stops. The driver could also have asked the armed security officer to threaten or shoot the hatchet-wielding attacker.

Three young men board a bus late on a cold December evening. The three men - two brothers and a friend - board just behind two women, one in her late teens and the other in her twenties.

The younger woman begins a conversation with one of the brothers. The older woman soon objects. The younger woman and the second brother begin a heated confrontation. The older woman and the first brother join in the name-calling and threats. The bus barely travels three blocks before the driver tells the rowdy group to quiet down. The driver warns the group twice more in the next 10 minutes.

The younger woman and the second brother begin fighting. The older woman pulls a gun, intending to shoot the second brother. Instead she wounds the first brother in the neck, leaving him a paraplegic. The driver stops at the next bus stop, and the two women escape. The driver uses his bus radio to call for the police.(3)

This particular driver had 18 months' experience on the job. His bus was equipped with a working two-way radio and silent alarm. His training included instructions to call for the police "when something happens" such as a robbery or assault. His trainers also stressed that bus drivers are not police officers. During the time the rowdy group of men and women were on his bus, the driver used his interior mirrors only to observe exiting passengers, not to monitor the group's behavior.

This driver should have been given more guidance on when to call the police to prevent disturbances from escalating into major crimes. All these examples expose the need for more indepth crime prevention training for transit system employees.

Except for initial and in-service training, written rules govern almost every aspect of a transit employee's job. Mass transportation systems are even more regulated than the semimilitary environment of law enforcement or security. Rules are necessary for safe, efficient, and on-time performance, and the operating rule book is the transit bible. Yet, rule books rarely cover transit crime situations. What coverage exists is confined to minor problems that might annoy passengers or what a transit employee should do after a robbery.

PROVEN METHODS OF CRIME DEterrence are available. CCTV on transit lines is sometimes coupled with a talk-back feature linking the observer and the location under surveillance. This innovation serves the dual purpose of crime prevention and passenger assistance. Monitor observers must be cross-trained in security observation techniques and schedule and routing information. The talk-back feature is frequently used at stations where passengers experience problems with ticket machines. This activity combats monitor observer fatigue.

CCTV cannot stand alone or as a bluff on transit systems. A reliable patrol response is also essential. For CCTV to be an effective crime deterrent, five minutes is the generally accepted maximum allowable response time. One now defunct rapid transit CCTV system was so faulty that pranksters urinated and masturbated in front of the cameras. Vandals destroyed parts of the system. The system's downfall was attributed to erratic monitor observation and poor police response.

Train annunciators in rail stations are another method of passenger protection. Annunciators indicate the approach of a train and give passengers enough time to go to the platform. Placing annunciators in a safe area of the station encourages passengers to wait where the opportunity for crime is least.

Creative use of business rental leases on transit property can also enhance station security. The leases should specify that tenants must remain open during certain hours. Storefront and interior lighting and layout can be designed so that store employees have a clear view of passenger areas. Undesirable businesses can be denied leases or have their leases terminated if they are a problem.

Bus designs using panelled bus backs and tinted windows have been criticized. Windowless bus backs prevent visual contact between police officers on a bus and back-up officers in a trailing car. Likewise, tinted glass windows interfere with police inspection of activity inside a bus.

Many cities have taken noteworthy approaches to lowering transit system crime. For example, Chicago uses a unit of the city police force to protect its transit lines. Improvements in the city's public transportation section operations have produced notable results. Serious crime on both buses and rapid transit went down 37.5 percent for the first nine months of 1989 compared to 1988. Statistics from 1988 showed 4,658 crimes and 482 arrests, while 1989 statistics list 2,910 crimes and 524 arrests. Arrests for lesser crimes were also up: 12,863 arrests were made in the first nine months of 1988 with 13,994 arrests for the same period in 1989. The key to crime reduction has been the sharp arrest increase.

This increase has been largely accomplished with the same personnel, although some changes were necessary. Commander Robert Dart of the public transportation section practices a proactive, personal brand of leadership that is infectious. Not chained to a desk and telephone, Dart is often at the scene of incidents and arrests or out inspecting the execution of orders and operational plans.

The multifaceted improvements in the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) reflect the more active involvement of transit system personnel. Supervisors encourage officers to develop a rapport with bus drivers, ticket agents, and train crews. The payback is an increasing number of tips from transit employees on criminal activity.

Contacts between Dart and Raleigh Mathis, the CTA's manager of security and police liaison, are a daily event. Public transportation section officers attend the CTA's rail safety school. Supervisors and officers make orientation visits to the CTA control center. CTA dispatchers likewise visit the police department's communications center. Officers use both CTA and police radios for direct communication on in-progress crime problems.

The CTA has also published a security pointers pamphlet for riders. A boldly worded media campaign warns "chili dog thugs" and other criminals that transit riders are no longer easy prey. Arrest activity also aims to alter criminals' perceptions of mass transit as an easy target. The media campaign is raising riders' confidence in Chicago's mass transit security. The result of all this activity is an increase in ridership - about 1 percent for August 1989, reversing a three-year ridership decline.

Effective transit system policing requires a great deal of routine security checks and detail work. Municipal police officers often have difficulty switching from responding to serious crimes such as robbery and assault to performing more mundane tasks.

Detroit's transit system successfully uses city police officers dubbed "bluebirds." Notable in the program is a transit crime reporting, statistics, and evaluation system that is piggybacked onto the traffic accident reporting system. Bluebird officers are selectively assigned to routes or bus stops where statistics show higher crime rates. Bluebird officers are carefully chosen and continously monitored for proactive work performance.

Detroit's monitoring of bus stop crime is unusual. Traditionally, transit systems have not concerned themselves with bus stop accidents or crimes because they were not liable for such occurrences. Passenger protection dictates, however, that crimes at bus stops be given the same priority as crimes that occur aboard transit vehicles.

Boston's Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) police force, headed by Chief Thomas Maloney, exemplifies the development of transit police agencies. From humble beginnings in 1964 - 35 officers operating out of a one-room office in a transit terminal - the MBTA force now has 140 officers and eight civilians. A $23 million headquarters building is planned. Boston is unique among US cities in that all modes of mass transportation are policed by one agency. Subways, buses, streetcars, and commuter rails are all covered by MBTA police.

A novel solution to Boston's downtown congestion is the use of motorcycle patrols. Since 1982, Boston transit system crime has declined 32 percent while ridership has risen 20 percent. An accurate and continously analyzed statistics system plays an important part in MBTA police crime prevention efforts. Computers also monitor patrols directed to trouble spots.

Appropriate laws are another prop supporting mass transit protection efforts. For example, care must be taken to ensure that where a transit system's routes traverse more than one state, transit police are empowered in all jurisdictions.

One illustration of legislation's effectiveness is the various pickpocket laws. Pickpockets ply their trade in large part on mass transit systems. Because of the difficulty of apprehending skilled, career pickpockets, some states have made pocket picking a more serious crime than ordinary theft. For example, Illinois's "theft from person" law makes any theft of property from the person a felony regardless of the amount stolen.(4)

Meanwhile, New York state has enacted the only jostling law. Jostling is an attempt at pickpocketing. Unlike an attempt under a theft statute where the victim must be the complainant, jostling can be charged by a police officer viewing the offense. The arresting officer's ability to describe the offense in detail is critical to successful prosecution. Transit police in New York describe the jostling law as quite effective.(5)

The ethics of enticement by decoy police officers trying to catch pickpockets and muggers is a topic of debate. Most police agencies have opted not to use loose money protruding from pockets or purses. Overly conspicuous or dangling jewelry is also viewed as unethical.

One accepted practice is studying victim profiles for sex, age, type of dress, and economic status and deploying officers matching victim profiles. Occasional or first time offenders may be lured by the enticing display of money or jewelry. Career criminals who use some degree of selectivity in marking their victims, however, are the real targets of police decoy activity.

MASS TRANSIT IS STILL A BUSIness, even though local government agencies have taken over most systems. Quality of life laws are therefore vital for economic success. Noise, litter, grafitti, peddling, vagrancy, drunkenness, urinating, etc. must all be controlled or eliminated to attract riders.

Next, once passengers have paid their fares, the revenue needs to be protected. Newer rail transit systems use ticket machines, and station attendants do not handle any money. Money trains are sometimes used to make collections from vending machines during early morning hours when transit systems are shut down. Other systems use armored cars for collections.

Bus fare boxes have also entered the electronic age. Besides counting and securing fares, modern fare boxes can tabulate ridership data. Data from the fare boxes is transferred to a computer when the farebox vault is emptied. Special employees at bus garages empty cash from fare boxes and take it to a main counting room for processing and delivery to a bank. Fare boxes are emptied before buses are stored to prevent break-ins. Fare box keys are also strictly accounted for.

As in all businesses, the enemy within has proven to be another source of transit crime that quietly saps the financial blood of transit systems. Selection of cash processing employees should neither be left to chance nor based merely on seniority rights. Fare box meter readings must be reconciled with revenue totals, and shortages should be investigated immediately.

Transit systems commonly check up on their revenue handling employes, but other forms of white-collar crime do not get as much attention. Transit system internal crime also includes commercial bribery, such as contract kickbacks, by appointed members of the transit system governing board.

The US attorneys' offices in New York and Chicago have actively prosecuted major cases of white-collar crime in transit systems. The inspector general's office of the US Department of Transportation investigates white-collar crime when federal grant money is involved.

Transit system security is a current and wide-ranging topic. The best source for more information is the American Public Transit Association, which has a standing security committee. APTA is located at 1202 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20005 (phone 202/898-4000). While not currently active in transit security matters, the Office of Safety at the federal Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) has supported research and demonstration projects on mass transit security. UMTA's Office of Safety is at 400 7th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20590 (phone 202/366-2896).

(1) Oak Park, IL, police report 78-5464 of May 28, 1978 and Hopkinson v. CTA, case 78 L 15079 Circuit Court of Cook Co., IL.

(2) Philadelphia, PA, police report 80-9-69057 of December 10, 1980 and Tilson v. SEPTA, case 2040 (1982) Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia Co., PA.

(3) Chicago, IL, police report Y-449586 of December 10, 1977 and Young v. CTA, 78 L 24094 Circuit Court of Cook Co., IL.

(4) Illinois Revised Statutes, Chapter 38, Section 16-1e3.

(5) Consolidated Laws of New York, Penal Law, Section 165.25.

Timothy O'Mahoney is security supervisor for JMB Properties Urban Company in Chicago, IL. He has 12 years' experience with the security department of the Chicago Transit Authority. He is a member of ASIS.
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Author:O'Mahoney, Timothy
Publication:Security Management
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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