RT security force improved, but still not adequate, review panel finds

Sacramento Regional Transit’s security force coverage on buses and light-rail trains is “inadequate,” putting the agency at risk of not being able to respond quickly enough to emergency calls, especially during evening hours, a review team has concluded.

The panel of outside experts, which conducted a four-day review of the transit agency’s system in late July, recommended RT create a full-time security chief position, develop a stronger “plainclothes” security team for trouble spots, and encourage transit guards to establish a more active presence by interacting more with passengers.

“At least two examples were presented to RT management where the observed guard did not interact with the public or with customers,” the panel wrote in its report to be presented to the RT board on Monday.

The review team said that despite areas for improvement, RT’s policing efforts overall are solid, given budget constraints, and that the agency appears to be serious about creating a safer environment on trains and buses. “RT’s leadership team is committed to the safety of all customers and employees and is proactively working to improve the public perception of safety.”

Sacramento RT officials assembled the six-person panel after two fatal shootings on light-rail trains prompted increased concern among transit users and nonusers about safety, especially aboard light-rail trains. One shooting happened in January apparently between strangers, and another in March when police shot a knife-wielding man. Most calls, RT police say, involve complaints of people smoking, drinking alcohol, or fighting. “Grab and run” thefts of cellphones and tablets are also common complaints.

RT’s peer review team consisted of transit security chiefs from Portland, Ore., and Denver, a security specialist with the American Public Transportation Association, a Los Angeles transit official, a Rancho Cordova police lieutenant and an official with the Downtown Sacramento Partnership.

“I want to get to the bottom of what we have, and what we can do better,” RT board Chairman Phil Serna said. Serna rode the rails for a day recently and talked with riders. He said he found the top concern involved convenience issues, but safety was also a major concern, notably at night.

The RT security force includes 28 sworn officers from the Sacramento Police Department and the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. A minimum of six patrol the system per work shift, according to the report. RT has begun having those officers spend more of their shift riding the trains. Unarmed private security guards also are employed at stations and on roving patrols on evening trains. RT also posts fare checkers, also known as transit officers, on trains.

Agency data shows those transit officers, and other members of the security force, have typically checked about 10 percent of train riders monthly for valid tickets or passes, but those numbers rose in July to 17 percent.

The review panel acknowledged that RT has expanded and modified its security force, but concluded, “police coverage throughout the service area is still not adequate.” It said the agency doesn’t have enough fare checkers, and can’t compensate with overtime because it lacks funds.

RT Chief Operating Officer Mark Lonergan said the peer review report is the first step in an effort to determine what improvements the agency can make to improve security.

The agency will hold a series of public workshops in November to solicit community comments and concerns. RT officials will assemble a report from those meetings for a board discussion in December or January on the next steps.

“At the end of the day, it is a board decision of how we allocate resources,” Lonergan said.

Other observations from the group: