[IMAGE]SEPTA.jpg[/IMAGE]Today, with funding issues, the still looming threat of terrorist attacks and record numbers of passengers using public transit, many agencies are finding ways to stretch resources to ensure a safe experience on their bus or subway systems, as well as at stops and stations. There seems to be no clear-cut answer as to what form of enforcement works best. Seemingly, it's up to the agency to decide, depending on what its needs are. For some larger metropolitan areas a transit police force is necessary, while other agencies often work with their local police departments. Still, other agencies may choose to hire a private security firm with the authority to enforce a transit agency's rules and regulations and detain when necessary.
One common important thread to any of these levels of protection and enforcement, though, is that in all of these situations hiring the right people and providing effective training are important factors in ensuring transit system safety.
Working with local police
The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is currently in the process of transitioning its special constables, which have the same power and authority as police officers but cannot carry firearms, to the authority of Toronto Police Services (TPS). The transition will create a combination of special constables and police officers that will patrol the entire system under one authority.
"By January 1 those officers will become employees of TPS, some of them may become police officers in the end, but there are still a number of unanswered questions about how that will work," explains Brad Ross, director of communications for the TTC. "Ultimately though, the transit patrol portion of what we do, with respect to system security, will be managed by the TPS and it will include police officers as it does today."
The TTC is currently in the process of going from 100 to 176 special constables as part of its six-year subway deployment plan, developed three years ago following a system security review in the wake of 9/11, the July 2005 terrorist attack in London and growing ridership. Even with those 176 special constables, Ross says that it wouldn't have been enough to match, per capita, the amount of customers riding the system.
"Because TPS is responsible for policing in Toronto including the subway system, they ultimately felt that they should have the responsibility for law enforcement in the subway as well as on the surface, and that's when the decision was made," Ross says of the reasons for the switch.
Helping to make the change a bit more seamless, the TTC trains its special constables to a police standard and has a rigorous screening process before they are hired. The constables receive all the same types of training except on firearms and a couple of statutes that they don't have the power to enforce. Besides that, Ross explains that for everything else, including criminal code, liquor license, drugs, trespassing and provincial offenses, they have the power to arrest, lay charges, release people on promise to appear in court, write tickets and transport people to a police station for processing if they need to be held.
The TTC will still manage security of its facilities, business offices, and rail and bus yards and also has a special investigative services division, which targets problems such as counterfeiting. Since it will still be responsible for these services, Ross adds that the switch will have only a slight impact on its budget.
Despite the decision to switch the supervision of its special constables, the TTC has been very successful at keeping its system safe, seeing only a 0.4 percent increase in incidents in 2008 paired with a 1.5 percent increase in ridership.
"We attribute that low number to the enforcement and to the special constables we have in the system," says Ross. "Our goal is a safe and secure system, so having a dedicated unit can only be a positive, can only be a benefit to both the TTC itself, the protection of its employees and assets and, ultimately, our customers."
Transit police departments
With a police force of 256 officers, Philadelphia's Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) is one of the largest transit police systems in the nation. Recently, the transit police department graduated 20 new officers - Police Academy Class 356 - that completed six months of Pennsylvania State Law Enforcement Certification training. The situation was unique as it was one of the first times a graduating class was comprised mostly of SEPTA officers.
"Normally, they are interspersed with Philadelphia police officers, however, because of a lot of budget constraints with the city, they were unable to get a class so we formed a non-Philadelphia class," explains Lt. Garrett Marsh.
Ordinarily, SEPTA officers complete the Police Academy then enter a two-week transitional training program that focuses on mass transportation systems, such as track safety, how to stop the trains in the case of an emergency, evacuation procedures, emergency exits, ingresses and egresses, and general safety precautions. The recruits also learn about mass transportation policing, and SEPTA has just begun a "buddy system," which pairs new recruits with seasoned veterans for two weeks.
"We also have our internal affairs unit come and talk to the officers about how to interact with the public and how to avoid getting involved in any types of misconduct because a lot of misconduct entails verbal exchanges, which could lead to something else," explains SEPTA's Chief David Scott.
Since SEPTA has more than 29,000 school students that use the system every day, Chief Scott and Lt. Marsh add that this recent class was also the first to go through a new program set up with the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency Disproportionate Minority Committee, which focuses on how officers interact with young people.
"It was a one-day program where we had young people and police officers on a panel where they interacted, did some role playing, and had some frank discussions about how we can interact with young people and not view them as a threat," explains Lt. Marsh.
Because transit police officers must deal with large amounts of the public on a daily basis, SEPTA focuses on finding officers who can communicate effectively with the public. Both Chief Scott and Lt. Marsh also say there are specialized written tests that help test the candidates' judgment and physical fitness requirements because the officers are on their feet most of the day and must also provide a strong aesthetic presence to help customers feel safe.
Recently, SEPTA received American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding that will enable them to hire 12 new officers. With an online, paperless application system in place, Lt. Marsh explains that they will choose from the more than 2,200 applicants that applied in a six-week period, using a single newspaper announcement.
"Obviously, we consider that an overwhelming response," comments Lt. Marsh. "Out of that final list, and we have a very rigorous 10-phase hiring process, we'll probably hire about 30 officers in the next year or so."
Similar to the TTC, SEPTA also boasts an effective crime control rate with 204 felonies committed on the system in 2008 compared with 1,493 felonies in 1989.
"That is a relatively low crime rate, particularly if you compare it to what's going on at the street level as well as other transit systems," says Chief Scott. "Obviously, any police executive would tell you that they would always like more cops, but we've also been able to maintain a relatively low level of crime with what we have."
While crime exists everywhere, there are transit agencies that don't necessarily need their own dedicated transit police force and choose to contract with private security firms such as G4S Wackenhut, which has a Customer Protection Officer (CPO) program.
"The challenge for some transit systems is that they need more than a security officer but not necessarily a fully sworn police officer," says Drew Levine, G4S Wackenhut's president. "We've termed the service that we provide for most transit properties to be 'quasi-law enforcement.'"
Levine adds what that means is that his firm helps transit agencies enforce their rules and regulations, eject somebody that needs to be ejected and legally detain somebody when necessary, but are not fully sworn deputies or city police officers. G4S Wackenhut works with the system to devise a plan that will effectively enable them to provide these services based on what type of system it is, what the agency needs are and in what areas they need the most presence.
Originally designed in 1988, G4S Wackenhut program currently provides security services for about a dozen transit agencies, including Portland, Ore.'s TriMet, Denver Regional Transportation District's FasTracks, Calif-based Sacramento Regional Transit District and South Florida's TriRail. Levine says that the firms' stringent and specialized recruitment requirements are what help make the CPO program successful.
"Each of our CPOs must have either a law enforcement or military enforcement background of some type," he says. "At TriRail, for example, it was written in the RFP on our recommendation that each officer has at least three years law or military enforcement experience."
Because of its hiring practices, Levine adds that the firm's CPOs come with a wealth of training, however, on top of that G4S Wackenhut provides state required training and basic first aid as well. To get its officers up to speed, the security company also provides site specific training as to how they will handle ejections, detentions, dos and don'ts of the system, fare evasion and fare enforcement, which is all generated by the customer and done in conjunction on-site. Like SEPTA, they also pair up new recruits with a seasoned veteran to help the officers gain proficiency quicker.
Levine says that the firm couldn't be happier with the success of the program. "If you compare us to law enforcement, in most cases, we're less expensive," he says. "If you compare us against a typical commercial level security guard, we're more expensive, but the work we can perform with these guys and gals because of the background they come from and the training we provide can cross those avenues where others can't, and that's what makes us a real good proposition for transit agencies."
[PAGEBREAK]Simulation program tests officers' decision making
Police officers are often faced with difficult situations where making the correct decision could be a matter of life or death. If a transit police officer is at a subway platform and faced with a situation where a passenger has a firearm, what does that officer do? And, has he ever been in this type of situation before?
FAAC Inc. and IES Interactive Training have combined to create a simulation product that trains officers on two very important "perishable skills": driving and force option training.
"Driving is the number one killer of police officers and that falls behind shooting incidents," explains David Bouwkamp, executive director of business development for FAAC. "Because both of these involve life and death, it is called a 'perishable skill.' Therefore, at many police agencies around the nation, it's required that officers train to these fundamental skills at least once every two years."
The MILO (Multiple Interactive Learning Objectives) force option simulator uses a computer-based video feed that projects various scenarios onto a screen, which forces an officer to make the correct decision for that specific scene. Many of the situations are taken directly from the headlines or incidents that may have happened recently to another officer in the same department. Police departments can also create their own scenarios from a large group of options, film their own scenarios and add geo-specific data, such as platforms, rail yards or bus stops, to make the situation even more lifelike.
"The idea, if it's a fairly normal situation, is that the officers train to talk that person to a point of submission," explains Bouwkamp. "The officer also has to be acutely aware of who else might be on the platform lurking or, if this person they've encountered reaches for something, is he reaching for a cell phone or a gun and at what point does the officer grab their taser versus a lethal weapon, baton or mace."
The simulator uses laser inserts that enable officers to use their own personal weapons during the scenario trainings, so that they become more comfortable with them. The system also comes with what's called a "shootback canon," which shoots hard pellets if an officer doesn't react in time and the person draws a gun and fires.
"The physical consequence allows the instructor to again accentuate the training aspect of this and create a lesson that will less likely be forgotten," says Bouwkamp.
Bouwkamp also explains that according to a recent study conducted by the California-based Commission on Peace Officers Standards & Training, simulation training is more effective than real-life training because it puts officers in harm's way without anybody getting hurt or any equipment being damaged, exposing them to situations they may not usually have to face on a day-to-day basis.
"It's a place where they can train through high-risk, low frequency incidents without the risk of life," he says.
Currently, the simulator is being used at several police departments as well as by transit police agencies in Boston, Maryland, Houston and Washington, D.C.