Professor Clifton Hood of the HWS history faculty was recently quoted in an article about the San Diego Trolley and the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS). Looking at the relatively low crime rate of the MTS, the article notes that some passengers are nonetheless uneasy about riding the trolley cars.
According to the article, Hood is not surprised. He is quoted as saying that in San Diego County, “Riding mass transit is for many people a new experience. What other public spaces are there where you mix in a relatively uncontrolled environment with so many strangers?”
Hood, who joined the faculty in 1992, holds a bachelor’s degree from Washington College, and his master’s and doctorate from Columbia University.
He is the author of “722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York,” which was released in a new paperback edition in 2004; and is currently writing two more books, “Making and Unmaking New York: The Rise and Fall of the City’s Economic Elites, 1754 to the Present.”
The full article about the MTS follows.
The San Diego Union-Tribune
Security team keeps peace throughout trolley system
Although crime rate rose, it’s below levels reported by L.A., Sacramento
Steve Schmidt • Staff Writer • May 31, 2009
Aleecia Brown knows some people bad-mouth what she does. She used to be one of them.
That was a couple of years ago, when she was a teen. Now she’s 20 and a cop. A San Diego Trolley cop.
Seems more than a few passengers don’t take them seriously. Maybe it’s because part of the security squad is unarmed. Maybe it’s because they are not authorized to act as sworn law enforcement officers.
Trolley cops don’t have regular face-offs with armed robbers or hostage takers. Most of the tens of millions of passengers each year mind their manners. But the cops encounter drunks, druggies, scam artists and scofflaws while carrying out a mission: provide assurance to uneasy passengers that they’re safe riding public transportation.
“Before I became a trolley cop, I didn’t realize we did all we did,” Brown said.
Metropolitan Transit System officials point out the crime rate on the trolley is low compared with many other light-rail networks. They also know that no matter how often they note the relative safety of the system, some passengers feel unnerved when they step on one of the trolley’s signature red cars.
Urban historian Clifton Hood, an expert on mass transportation, said such discomfort is common in sprawling, Sun Belt cities such as San Diego.
In San Diego County, where car ownership is seen practically as a birthright, “riding mass transit is for many people a new experience,” said Hood, chairman of the urban studies program at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York. “What other public spaces are there where you mix in a relatively uncontrolled environment with so many strangers?”
Trying to provide order is MTS’ 135-member security force, working 53 miles of double-tracked rail, 53 stations and other agency property scattered across the region.
The trolley carried a record 36 million passengers last year. Over the same period, MTS reported 124 thefts, 59 robberies and one homicide – a stabbing in September at the Old Town Transit Center.
The serious crime rate grew to 0.63 incidents per 100,000 passengers, from 0.47 in 2007.
By comparison, the crime rate was 1.18 on the Sacramento light-rail network last year and 1.45 on the Los Angeles system.
Capt. Dennis Jackson, who supervises the MTS security force, said keeping tabs on possible trouble spots is a daily challenge. One day his team is clearing out a hobo camp near a rail line, the next they’re dealing with crowds heading for a sporting event.
“You’re never bored,” Jackson said. “It’s just always something different.”
For example, consider the Orange Line, from downtown San Diego to East County. Jackson said one of the line’s weekday runs — known within MTS as Train 51 – is a notorious headache.
When school gets out in the afternoons, the line is flooded with students. Most behave. But a few try stunts like trying to hold the trolley’s automated doors open.
More serious are gang tensions that may have been stirred up at school and sometimes spill over onto the trolley, resulting in scuffles.
Jackson and his crew swarm the train as it begins its afternoon trek east. About a dozen MTS security members, including Brown, patrol the City College station downtown, near San Diego High School.
Brown joined the MTS force about 18 months ago. The 2006 graduate of San Diego High used to be part of the school-age crowd that rode the trolley each day.
She sees the job as a good entry point into a full-blown law enforcement job some day, like with the California Highway Patrol.
“It’s been a real good learning experience,” she said. Now, she said, “I don’t see being a trolley cop as a negative at all. I see the good that we do.”
Brown, who is 5 feet 3 inches tall, carries Mace and a baton, but no gun. She has applied for a firearms permit. About half of the MTS security crew is licensed to carry a gun.
“When someone sees you with a gun, they get more intimidated,” Brown said.
Trolley cops earn $9 to $14 an hour. Jackson said many on his squad are retired military personnel or younger, fresh-out-of-school types like Brown.
Assisting are MTS dispatchers, 200 closed-circuit cameras planted on agency property and a separate code enforcement team that enforces fare rules. The trolley security staff is allowed to respond to incidents and detain troublemakers. The San Diego Police Department and other law enforcement agencies are usually called in to handle arrests and investigations.
Sgt. Hector Herrera, 28, joined the MTS security squad more than three years ago, after stints as a retail salesman.
He works 10-hour shifts, four days a week, often alongside fare compliance officer Javier Torres.
At some trolley stations, such as Euclid Avenue, they keep an eye out for gang tensions. At others, like the San Ysidro Transit Center, they watch for passengers trying to re-sell their fare tickets.
On the Blue Line through South County the other day, they walked through trolley car after trolley car, asking passengers to flash their tickets or monthly passes.
Nearly 20,000 passengers were cited last year for fare evasion.
One passenger told Herrera and Torres he had no ticket. Questions followed, words were exchanged and the man was politely asked to step off the trolley.
Herrera and Torres discovered the man was carrying a syringe and heroin wrapped in foil. He taunted the pair, saying they were only trolley cops and couldn’t do a thing.
‘Is that right?,’ Herrera replied.
The man was arrested and handed over to San Diego police.
Asked why he hadn’t bought a ticket, he replied: “I didn’t have the money.”
Out of the 36 million trolley passengers last year, 2,560 were arrested for minor crimes. The leading offenses: disorderly conduct, trespassing and drug abuse.
The lone homicide last year occurred in September, when a 17-year-old girl was stabbed in the chest during a scuffle at the Old Town Transit Center. A 17-year-old boy was arrested and charged in connection with the case.
The most common serious crime last year was theft, usually involving cell phones and iPods.
The stations with the highest number of crime incidents last year included Old Town, Spring Street in La Mesa and the El Cajon Transit Center.
Some passengers would like MTS to do more to crack down on crime. MTS officials believe their crime statistics show there is little to worry about.
Jackson said his crew will keep doing what they can. “We can’t be on every train, every car, every station,” he said. “You can’t be everywhere.”