Sacramento Regional Transit to beef up security on light-rail trains

Move comes in response to feedback from riders that they don't feel safe during off-peak hours


June 02--Sacramento Regional Transit is beefing up light-rail security at night and on weekends in response to feedback from riders that they don't feel safe during those off-peak hours.

Officials are considering future changes, too, as the system takes on new passengers as the result of Fix50 construction, Sacramento Republic games and, eventually, a Kings basketball arena and entertainment complex downtown.

"It's really a change in how we do business," said Sacramento Police Lt. Norm Leong, who oversees Regional Transit Police Services.

Most notably, Leong said he is shifting resources to make sure there is a security guard on every light-rail train running after 6:30 p.m. That's up from four two-man teams spread out over as many as eight trains, he said. An additional two security guards will be working each light-rail line to back up guards riding the trains.

Leong also is rearranging the schedules of his 26 armed, uniformed officers -- city police officers and sheriff's deputies serving Regional Transit on contract -- so there is an increased presence at night and on weekends.

Regional Transit officials began fielding feedback from riders concerned about safety following two unusual, high-profile incidents on light-rail trains. In January, a 32-year-old woman fatally shot another passenger on an outbound Gold Line train as it came into the Archives Plaza station at 11th and O streets.

Less than two months later, Sacramento police officers fatally shot a 50-year-old man aboard a downtown train after he asked to be shot and concealed his hands after having made threats about possessing a knife.

Since then, feedback generally has reflected a feeling of safety among riders during peak commute hours, but not at night or on weekends, when trains are much less full, Leong said.

Nearly 39,000 people ride light rail between the peak hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays, according to Regional Transit figures. Outside of those hours, ridership drops below 8,000. The average weekend day sees about 16,400 passengers.

"That's the difference," Leong said. "You have more people in the system during those (peak) hours, so you don't feel alone."

As part of the recent changes, Leong is asking security guards to focus more on customer service at light-rail stations, helping riders purchase tickets and navigate the system, for example. Those guards also will be doing more to check fares of people at the stations and boarding trains, Leong said. Non-sworn light-rail officers currently check fares on trains, but Leong hopes that expanding that practice to stations will help improve safety across the system.

These changes are just the start, Leong said. In July, transit officials from Denver, Portland and Los Angeles County will be visiting Sacramento to conduct independent reviews of light-rail security and offer suggestions -- a widespread practice in the transit industry, Leong said.

"Transit's very much about peer reviews and looking at each others' systems to see best practices and get an outside, independent look at operations," he said.

For now, Leong is largely rearranging his current resources to address safety. In the future, though, he said he hopes for a larger budget so he can increase the overall number of officers and guards available on all shifts.

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