Metro Mulls Remedies to Curtail Youth Crime

Dorothy Rowley | 3/2/2011, 9:22 p.m.

Metro officials are seriously working on reversing a growing number of crimes taking place on its buses and trains involving youth.

In a recently-released security report, Metro revealed that 2,279 crimes occurred on the system in 2010, and that about half were robberies in which offenders made off with a variety of electronic devices snatched from commuters. Although the report did not come out and state directly, the implication was that many of the crimes were the handiwork of juveniles.

The report also revealed that the 10 most dangerous rail stations - pointing out that a majority are located on the east side of the District where the Blue, Yellow and Green lines run. Those stations, which include New Carrollton, Branch Ave. and Greenbelt, are also routes where a majority of minority youth live and rely on the system to get back and forth.

Metro's chief of security, Michael Taborn, who recently addressed the agency's board of directors during a safety and security committee said, that it's not unusual for gang members on the trains to purposely bump into other passengers just to start a fight. He also said there has been a problem with juveniles boarding the trains without paying a fare.

"The criminals who evade the fares, oftentimes have warrants," Taborn said.

"In fact, a second police officer who was killed in the line of duty was as the result of a person who failed to pay his fare."

Taborn added that usually in the case of juveniles where there have been custodial arrests, officers currently issue a citation. But he said that needs to be taken a step further, as the youthful offenders "know and understand" that to be given a citation most likely means nothing more will happen.

Taborn said that in order to offset that mindset, officials are considering implementation of a project similar to one in Dallas, Texas, where offenders are dealt with by their schools for negative activity that occurs on public transit.

He said that in Dallas, the misbehavior is reported to an offender's school, which in effect might for example; suspend a basketball player from a game.

"Hopefully, we can get something like that here in the nation's capital," Taborn said.

But Ward 6 Council member Tommy Wells, 54, said that the plan is already in motion.

"We want our juvenile students to use the Smart cards which will have their names and school on it," Wells said. "

"If they get in trouble while riding the system we can just call the school and get them to intervene," he said.

Wells said that a pilot program will be crafted in April, rolled out in the summer and ready for implementation when schools reopen next fall.

Last summer for instance, about 70 youth were involved in a weekend melee that took place at the L'Enfant Plaza station near Gallery Place where the Green Line operates. Four people were hospitalized and three teenagers were arrested after Metro security officers responded to a
call surrounding a disturbance on one of the trains.

According to reports, the area where the brawl occurred is in close proximity to clubs in the District's Chinatown/Gallery Place area in Northwest where youth are known to gather.

In another incident that occurred around the same time, a young man was arrested for an incident that took place at the Anacostia station. Police also responded, and as in the case of the L'Enfant Plaza fight, no weapons were found.

However as a result of the L'Enfant Plaza melee, Metro's police presence was beefed up on the Green Line, and since release of the transit system's Feb. 24 security report, police prevalence on rail lines southeast of the city have noticeably increased.

Tiffany Day, 30, rides the Metro buses and rarely uses the rail service.

She said she has yet to encounter a problem on her commutes and believes that in the wake of the upward spiral in crime that officials should beef up train security.

"I'm OK with that, if that's what needs to be done," she said.

On the other hand, Cheria Johnson, 24, said young people committing crimes "definitely" need more guidance. "Of course, that starts at home," Johnson said, "but the city also needs to have more community centers open where [youth] can be taught how to act accordingly when riding the Metro."

In the meantime, Metro could also curtail juvenile crime by limiting students' ability to ride the system whenever they wanted -- at the city's expense. To that end, officials are considering issuing them a new SmarTrip card that would prevent usage of subsidized passes to
ride buses nights and weekends.

Also, soon after the agency's report, officials released a press statement in which they cautioned riders to be aware of their surroundings while traveling the system, in order to prevent them from becoming crime victims.

Officials also announced that this weekend (March 4-6) that they will be conducting a safety and reliability survey on the Blue, Orange and Red lines.

As a result, some temporary service changes will be made, but officials say the changes will ensure a safer and smoother ride. In addition, at the same time, Blue
Line service between the Stadium-Armory and Benning Road stations will be unavailable, although Benning Road will remain open. Normal service is expected to resume on Mon., March 7.