Photo courtesy L.A. Metro

Photo courtesy L.A. Metro

Over the past two decades, terrorist attacks across the globe have shaped the focus of security. In response, transit system police forces shifted their strategies to a strong focus on terrorism and countering the potential for terrorism, says Greg Hull, APTA’s assistant VP, public safety, operations and technical services.

In the initial years, he says, there was a tremendous outlay of energy and resources devoted to countering terrorism. Today, Hull says there has been a “renewed approach to security and looking at it from the continuum of security that takes on the day-to-day issues to the extremes of countering terrorism.” Hull explains this by citing the “broken windows” concept.

“If you don’t pay attention to broken windows or graffiti, it causes in the minds of all concerned, a belief that no one is watching, nobody is paying attention” he says. “Where we are now in our industry across the country, is that a very strong focus on what we do day-to-day [from a security standpoint] is very important and very critical.”

According to Hull, there has been a significant move into technology with regard to security.

“Particularly, following the London bombings, where, as we all know, the forensics tool that became available through the surveillance equipment was key in being able to identify the individuals that attacked the London Underground,” he says. “That caused a lot of us internationally, and certainly in the U.S., to put more of a focus on the use of surveillance equipment in our systems.”

Most recently, it was surveillance images that helped identify and lead to the capture of the Boston bombing suspects.

The origin of the use of surveillance equipment was the return on investment (ROI) with respect to, and insurance claims resulting from, accidents. Fast forward, the industry has not just seen ROI for claims mitigation, but also for security purposes.

Like many transit systems, deploying a robust camera system across its infrastructure is something New Jersey Transit (NJ Transit) has done to bolster its security capabilities.

“Because we have limited human assets, we look at what we can do to multiply our capabilities,” NJ Transit Police Chief Chris Trucillo says. [PAGEBREAK]

The open environment of transit poses a challenge for security personnel. Photo courtesy NJ Transit.

The open environment of transit poses a challenge for security personnel. Photo courtesy NJ Transit.

Patrols, visible presence
While technology is a crucial tool to help fight crime and counter terrorism, manpower in the form of police patrols is crucial.

“I think there needs to be a combination of [technology and manpower], but if you asked me which one I would prefer, it would be more personnel,” says Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Chief of Police Paul MacMillan. “I don’t think there’s a police chief in the country that wouldn’t say that.”

The MBTA has its own dedicated transit police department, which is broken down into transit police service areas. Each area is commanded by a lieutenant, charged with developing a relationship with the community and the employees in their service area, and monitoring crime and coming up with strategies to combat it. These strategies could include plain clothes assignments or high visibility patrols. The MBTA also employs a point-of-entry policing strategy, where officers, either in plain clothes, or high-visibility vests, will be placed in various stations. Additionally, the police department’s SWAT team, wearing full tactical gear, do sweeps of selected stations and patrol the system with an explosive detection dog.

“Once they enter the station, our passengers will see a police presence and the criminal who comes into our station will see a police presence,” MacMillan says.

These patrols are focused primarily on heavy rail, but light rail is also covered. MacMillan says that for the past year, the MBTA has emphasized coverage of highly traveled bus routes with high visibility patrols and will move forward with patrolling selected bus routes as well.

In addition to rail, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which is contracted to provide transit security to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), does “bus rides” and “bus boardings.”     

“A bus ride is where a deputy will ride for several stops, while another deputy will follow him,” says Lieutenant Karl Schow. “For boardings, there will be areas where buses and rail come together, and we’ll board the buses just checking how things are.”

In addition to the patrol trained deputies, the Sheriff’s department has a bicycle riding team and also employs explosive detection dogs.

During these high-visibility patrols, which are a major part of transit security personnel’s day-to-day policing, it’s important to not become predictable. NJ Transit’s Trucillo says it’s important to not show the same things day to day.  

“If there are people surveying [the system], you don’t want them to see that at 9:05 a.m. a K-9 officer and a K-9 are going to be standing in a particular spot,” he explains. “We try to make sure our officers don’t become predictable.”

All the officers are given DHS-approved behavioral training.

“We are not looking at race, religion, eye color, hair color, we’re looking at behavior that doesn’t fit,” Trucillo says. These are the same types of skills that any good police officer would utilize for crime prevention, but they are just shifted in a counter terrorism direction, he adds.

Additionally, NJ Transit’s more than 11,000 civilian employees have been trained in behavioral detection. They are taught to look at behavior and what’s right and what may be out of place and report that to their police department, according to Trucillo.

Communication, Partnerships
Communication and sharing of information also plays an essential role in transit security.     

“One of the things we learned from 9/11 on a national scale is the sharing of information and making sure that if somebody knows something, that everybody knows it too,” Trucillo says.  

NJ Transit Police is a full partner with the state’s fusion center, the Regional Operations Intelligence Center (ROIC), a clearinghouse for all law enforcement information that needs to be shared in the state.

“For example, it might be information about a wanted person; it could be an Amber alert about a young child missing. And, in lots of cases, [the ROIC] is pushing out the most up-to-date terrorist information from around the world,” Trucillo says.

Developing partnerships with local, state and federal law enforcement partners is key for transit system security programs. In mid-June, NJ Transit Police took part in a rail conference that gathered law enforcement personnel from across the state to discuss rail from a terrorism and crime perspective, as well as a from a safety standpoint.

Attending this meeting is one of the ways the agency’s police force is building relationships.

Developing relationships with local partners has helped the Los Angeles Sheriffs with the policing of the L.A. Metro.

“We are charged with doing law enforcement on the rails and buses, and they don’t necessarily run through every city that we police,” Schow says. “There are some unique challenges with that.”

To help with this problem, the L.A. Sheriffs meet regularly with the different Los Angeles Police Department divisions.

“You don’t get the silo effect that maybe you had a few years ago,” Schow says. [PAGEBREAK]

Security strategies include high visibility patrols and sweeps of buses and railcars with explosive detection dogs. Photo courtesy NJ Transit.

Security strategies include high visibility patrols and sweeps of buses and railcars with explosive detection dogs. Photo courtesy NJ Transit.

Social media, tools
Public awareness campaigns are one of the many tools being used by transit systems to engage their ridership in the safety and security of the system. Like many transit systems across the country, NJ Transit has implemented the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign that calls on riders to report suspicious activity.

“We try to message that aggressively on all modes of transportation,” Trucillo says.

NJ Transit also employs a text tips program, where if someone is uncomfortable making a phone call, they can text the tip to the police department. All tips are followed up to let the person sending it know the outcome, he says.     

“This tool is publicized with print posters, commercials and radio spots to keep it at the forefront for the ridership,” Trucillo says.

Texting is also a tool being used by the MBTA to receive tips from passengers anonymously. Last year, the transit system implemented a “See Say” security app for the iPhone and Android, which lets riders instantly share pictures and text incident location details to transit police. Riders may choose to send reports anonymously and a rider’s smartphone flash is automatically turned off when taking a photo of something suspicious. Messages are then sent to the police dispatch center. Since its launch, an estimated 8,000 people have downloaded the app. The MBTA police were able to apprehend two individuals accused of selling weapons in a station based on information provided by an app user, MacMillan says.

“We want as many ways possible for our ridership to communicate with us, whether it’s calling us, sending us a text or using this app to send a message,” MacMillan says. “There are 1.4 million people riding the MBTA a day, we obviously can’t be everywhere, but our passengers can assist us in providing for their security by using these tools.”

Los Angeles Metro has a special site, devoted to security on the transit system, which features information from the Department of Homeland Security and the local Joint Regional Intelligence Center about what to look for and how to report any information that is possibly terrorist related to the Metro sheriff deputies that patrol the Metro system.

The website also provides current updates to news and information about recent terrorist activities or other criminal activities that could affect the transportation public. Plans are also in the works to launch a Transit Watch app that will give users access to the information on the website and the ability to report to Metro about suspicious activity.

The challenge for transit security police is the fact that transit is a generally open and free environment.         

“We have to move a lot of people in a short amount of time. We don’t have the luxury of having people wait in line for a security checkpoint,” MBTA’s MacMillan says. “Mass transit is a soft target and we have to do a number of initiatives to do the best we can to protect our passengers, but the challenge is there are lots of areas where people can come and out of our stations that would be unprotected.”

“As tragic as the events are, we try to learn from them,” Schow says of recent terrorist attacks. “Every time something happens at a large event, we are always asking ourselves, what would we do?”

Another challenge has been the lack of funding for transit system security. With limited funding, security has been supplemented by DHS grants that have been made available through the years.           

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen DHS grants diminish significantly over the years. The ability to use those grants for day-to-day [security] purposes is very limited,” APTA’s Hull says.

“Politically, as we move further and further away from 9/11, because we haven’t had a particular terrorist event that has occurred on U.S. soil on a public transit system, there is a general sense in the minds of some decision makers that the level of financial support for security may not be needed to the degree that it was felt shortly after 9/11,” adds Hull. “We have to be very cautious that we don’t allow ourselves to be complacent just because something hasn’t happened.”