How Effective Are the Transit Police?

Handling of assault, robbery draw complaints

Three years ago, I was one of the victims of a serial mugger operating around the entrance to the Columbia Heights Metro station. The perpetrator pulled a gun on me on the down escalator, and after I turned over my loot, he ran up the other side.

Shaken, I approached the station kiosk. The attendant was concerned and immediately notified the Metro Transit Police Department. Officers arrived on the scene shortly, interviewed me, and followed up three times over the next two days.

That’s how it’s supposed to work. Not everyone is so lucky.

TBD reported that last Tuesday evening, aboard a Red Line train, a teenager hurled a gallon jug of iced tea in the face of another passenger, then disembarked at the next stop with his friends, laughing. The man’s nose was reportedly broken, and he was left bleeding on the train.

Two other passengers first got off the train to pursue the attacker, but jumped back on in order to assist the injured man. Since it was an emergency, they quite sensibly used the emergency call box to report the assault. The train operator came on the line and told them to stop fooling around with the call box.

At the next stop, a Metro employee was on the platform. They told him that there was an injured man aboard. The Metro employee said he could do nothing -- and advised them to get back on the train and use the emergency call box.

A Metro spokesman told TBD that it is not up to the train conductor to stop the train. But, TBD writes, “in this case it sounds like the operator may never have reported the incident at all.” The victim did finally get aid from Metro authorities -- five stops down the line from the site of the assault.

As DCist’s Aaron Morrissey put it, “If you witness an assault on Metro and are actually able to communicate it to the operator through the call box, you may have to wait for deliberation and authorization from three separate entities (the train operator, the control center and Metro Transit Police) to get someone to do something. Well, that’s reassuring.”

Of course, you can always call the transit police directly at 202-962-2121 -- if there’s anyone there to pick up. A writer to Unsuck D.C. Metro says he witnessed the theft of an iPhone “in front of dozens of onlookers” at the Gallery Place station. He called the posted number -- and there was no answer. The thief got away.

So assault victims are left bleeding and waiting on the train, and theft victims may not get any help at all. What about Metro’s constant warnings about possible terrorism? Will they at least respond then?

Not necessarily. Another Unsuck D.C. Metro correspondent says that after seeing a “large piece of luggage” unattended for about 10 minutes at the McPherson Square station, she went to notify the station manager. There were two women inside the kiosk, chatting. Finally she knocked, and “told the lady that a large bag had been sitting unattended and she barked, ‘Yeah okay!’”

The other woman “asked what color it was. As I told her it was red, she slammed the door in my face.” The writer knocked again to inform the Metro workers where the bag was located. “She yelled ‘Yeah, I said okay!’ and slammed the door again and continued to ignore us.”

Metro Slams Doors. And they don’t care if that’s your bag.

Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC

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