Focus on Day-to-Day Transit Security Helps Mitigate Larger Threats

Posted on June 26, 2013 by Janna Starcic, Executive Editor

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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.

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