Consultants who studied MetroLink crime and security are calling for continuing recent efforts to limit access to the light rail system’s stations and to increase patrols on the trains by Metro public safety personnel.
The consulting team’s report, submitted Friday to the board of the Bi-State Development Agency — Metro Transit’s parent agency — also calls for better coordination with police in St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Clair County.
The report, by New York-based WSP USA Inc., also criticized Metro’s own public safety department for having been “competitive to law enforcement, not complementary to law enforcement.”
In that vein, the report calls for Metro to consider ending the carrying of guns by its public safety officers and contracted guards as part of a refocusing of their duties.
“We think there’s a confusion of roles right now,” Lurae Stuart, who headed the study, said in an interview. “In the transit world, security is not the gun. Security is the presence on the train. It’s making people feel comfortable.”
The report also urges Metro to eliminate or phase out its public safety officers’ four canine teams, which the consultants said were of limited use. When dogs are needed, the report said, police canine units could be made available.
The consultants, meanwhile, applauded Metro’s efforts in recent months to focus its personnel on customer service, fare enforcement and “front-line surveillance.”
The report also calls for the preparation of a detailed security strategy outlining the roles of police and Metro personnel and developing a way to measure their performance.
“Most of all, one of the things we felt was missing (was) a focus on customer service,” Stuart told the board.
Stuart said in an interview that the strategy should home in on the “right mix” of Metro personnel and police riding the trains. St. Clair County sheriff’s deputies already routinely ride MetroLink in their coverage area during higher-crime evening hours.
Meanwhile, the report observed that Metro’s contracted security guards had been reported to be “disengaged, either standing off to the side, above the platform at stairway approaches, on their phone, or seated away from passengers.”
The report said “contractual requirements” had limited the guards’ effectiveness. Metro has said it plans to revamp its security contract this year.
As the consultants had previously indicated, their report doesn’t recommend adding turnstiles or ticket-takers. Some local officials had advocated such moves after some high-profile violent crimes on the system in recent years.
But members of the consulting team say there isn’t much correlation between fare evasion and serious crime.
As in most other light-rail systems in the United States, Metro enforces fares by randomly requiring riders on the trains to produce time-stamped tickets.
The report doesn’t cite any statistics, but Stuart says MetroLink’s “rate of crime and the amount of crime is fairly typical” for this type of system, she said.
She cites disorderly conduct as a problem that makes MetroLink unpleasant to ride, such as the flouting of rules against loud music, smoking, eating and drinking.
She has said an engaged, consistent security presence can deal with that and the perception by the public that the incidence of crime is worse than it really is.
About 71 percent of people surveyed by the consultants listed a lack of security presence on the trains as their biggest MetroLink security concern. That was the leading response by the more than 1,800 people, 1,669 of them current MetroLink riders, who took part in the survey, which was conducted largely online.
Regarding police staffing, the report says the level of personnel assigned to MetroLink in St. Louis is inadequate “due to city staffing constraints.” But the report doesn’t comment on staffing levels in St. Louis and St. Clair counties.
Stuart said the consultants didn’t recommend setting up a separate transit police force because it’s very difficult for new police agencies to recruit personnel and pay competitive wages.
That’s especially true now, she said, with established departments across the country struggling to sign up new officers.
She said the team preferred to build on the current setup here and recommended wider use of St. Louis County officers and St. Clair County deputies in St. Louis to supplement city police.
On another point, the report says that “political intrusion into Metro security has escalated conflict without supporting change” and hindered efforts to address the issues.
The report urges area leaders to “de-politicize the conversation about Metro security” and to deal with differences in closed meetings.
“I have never, ever seen anything ever like this,” she said, referring to past discord in public among elected leaders and security officials over how to protect MetroLink.
Metro and St. Louis County officials in particular have been at odds over security matters.
Taulby Roach, who took over Jan. 1 as Bi-State’s president and CEO, ousted Metro’s two top security officials last month and is looking for replacements.
Stuart said her team had recommended that Roach take that action. “To be fair, they were, I think, brought in at a time when they thought they were going down the road” of establishing a separate Metro transit police force, Stuart said.
On station access, Metro began last fall a pilot project to restrict entry into its North Hanley, Forest Park-DeBaliviere and Fairview Heights stations with fencing and other features. That is being expanded to the Central West End and Delmar Loop stations.
Stuart said some such efforts are aimed at “screening off the dead space where people loiter sometime” and engage in disorderly conduct.
This spring, Metro will begin redesigning the Laclede’s Landing, Convention Center and Eighth and Pine stations to include better lighting, clearer sight lines and new signs.
Among other points in the report:
• Better data collection and metrics are needed to keep track of crime and other issues on MetroLink.
• All MetroLink security agencies need to be on the same radio frequency. Efforts to that end have been underway since last year, local officials say.
• Ticket vending machines and fare validating devices should be moved outside “paid fare zones” at stations to reduce confusion. Their locations vary.
• Uniforms worn by police and other security personnel on MetroLink should be updated to make them more visible to riders.
• Metro and police should initiate concentrated “sweeps” of a train aimed at checking all riders for proof they paid a fare, using as many as 10 officers and or guards at a time.
“It’s just a way of really emphasizing we’re looking at everybody,” Stuart said. “It’s another tool.”
• Security camera systems at stations need to be updated.
WSP was hired by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments to do the study; it will be paid about $375,000. A plan in 2017 by Bi-State to spend $3.6 million on analyzing and installing a barrier and turnstile system evolved into the security study.
The study will be followed up by an implementation plan. Jim Wild, Gateway’s executive director, said proposals from consulting firms were now being sought to work on that.