Metro Transit System Needs More Officers, D.C. Police Chief Testifies

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At a June 24 Capitol Hill hearing on security gaps and safety within the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), several D.C. officials emphasized one point: Effective crime fighting requires sufficient crime fighters.

Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn, Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier and Del. Eleanor Holmes (D-D.C.) in their testimonies all agreed that the rail system—like D.C., itself—was significantly undermanned.

“He probably won't say it, but I'll say it for [Taborn]: I think he needs more police officers. I really, really do,” Lanier testified.

The police chief compared the 450 officers stationed in Metro to the 850 officers posted at the Pentagon. “[The Pentagon police] are not subject to the ridership of Metro, which is almost the size of the District of Columbia,” she said. “I can't imagine how Chief Taborn polices that Metro. It is geography that moves. It's very difficult.”

Taborn agreed. He said a lack of follow-up for written citations and other adjustments have made the department inefficient. “[Offenders] now know there is not going to be a follow-up if they’re issued a citation,” he said.

As a result of the shortage, officers were reassigned to places they usually did not work, which put a strain on the department. “We’ve employed a lot of things by putting administrative officers out on the street and replacing them with civilians, and so it is a process,” Taborn added.

Congressional lawmakers seemed to sympathize with the security officials’ plight.

But, when Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) asked the panel if the government oversight subcommittee could do anything else to help Metro besides assist with financial needs, Lanier frankly responded, “Everything kind of centers around finance.”

As the hearing, “WMATA: Is There a Security Gap?” continued, Congresswoman Norton pushed for allocation of $150 million of the total $1.5 billion federal dollars allotted to the transit system.

“Even though [President Obama] placed this year's $150 million in his budget, we are likely to have to fight hard to keep Republicans from removing it, as they tried to do in fiscal year 2011, given the current budget climate,” Norton stated in a press release.

To allow her colleagues to see the impact a cut in funding would make, Norton questioned Richard Sarles, the general manger and CEO of WMATA, who predicted dire consequences if the $150 million installment was cut or not given at all.

Sarles said passengers would face “frequent train delays,” and “longer lines.” He also said the installation of 300 new railcars, expected to arrive in 2013, would be delayed.

“We’ve seen tragically what has happened when there isn’t enough funding for this system,” the CEO said in reference to the 2009 Red Line crash that killed nine people.

Since the crash, Sarles said more than 100 recommended corrective actions have been completed and the department has beefed up employee training. But old cars still remain on tracks and new cars are not expected until another two years. This bothered her, Norton said, since 1970 vintage cars were involved in the deadly crash.

The D.C. representative said she was shocked to see that there were no national rail standards. After the Metro collision, Norton wrote an amendment to the National Transportation Board (NTSB) Reauthorization Act of 2010 to “clarify NTSB’s authority to offer interim safety recommendations.”