While MetroLink riders were being killed, robbed and assaulted, some St. Louis County police working the light rail security detail appear to have been lounging in darkened private offices, napping, chatting and conducting private business. They scurried out of sight and taped over video cameras installed specifically to make sure nothing inappropriate was going on.
Families of loved ones assaulted or robbed on MetroLink should be outraged over the details outlined in a series by Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger. County taxpayers, who approved a half-cent sales tax increase for public safety, should be screaming for heads to roll.
Police Chief Jon Belmar’s stated concerns about privacy and the use of a video monitoring room as a changing room for police seem like a flimsy attempt to explain away an embarrassing lapse in command judgment. So does St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger’s response on Monday, echoing Belmar’s comments about privacy and questioning why MetroLink put cameras in private areas where police officers change clothes.
Messenger obtained video footage from substations through a public records request. Stenger said he has “100 percent confidence” in Belmar to investigate and determine what officers were actually doing. It’s clear what they were not doing was their job patrolling the crime-plagued transit system.
The relationship between Stenger, Belmar and Metro soured in 2015 when St. Louis city and county police chiefs told Metro to stop issuing tickets under an FBI accreditation number that had been assigned to the county. Metro officers had been using the number since 1993. The FBI rejected Metro’s application for its own number, leaving the agency without a fully certified security force.
Since then, Metro officers have been unable to enforce laws, even for fare skippers, in the county under legal threat from Belmar and St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch. Metro officers have Class A peace officer licenses through the state of Missouri, a lesser accreditation than full officer training.
Riders deserve better. Their safety shouldn’t be at risk because of jurisdictional squabbles. They shouldn’t have to wander around looking for help or become sitting ducks on platforms and trains while law enforcers are lounging and chatting in a back room.
Stenger said he does not have authority over Belmar, who reports to the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners. The police board reprimanded Belmar last year for writing a letter to a judge in support of a drug dealer.
Stenger said he was disturbed to read that riders reported not seeing police on MetroLink platforms or on trains in general, and that county officers patrolling Metro stopped using a radio frequency that Metro security officers can monitor.
Cooperation and leadership can help fix Metro’s security problems. Whatever those county officers were hiding, it certainly wasn’t good police work.