HOUSTON – For many people in the Houston area, METRO is a critical mode of transportation moving them to and from work, school, doctor’s appointments, and even entertainment events over a 1,300 square-mile area.
“I think it’s pretty fair, I don’t have a problem with it,” said rider Quintin Brown.
For others, it’s a cheaper alternative to finding a parking spot.
“What else are you to do? You work downtown, you have to pay these expensive parking prices versus parking your car and getting on the rail for a few dollars,” said rider Clarence Vaughn.
KPRC 2 Investigates analyzed a database of 6,015 crimes reported to METRO police from Jan. 1, 2019, through Aug 31, 2022.
According to the data, 14.2% of these reported crimes were thefts, 15.9% involved vandalism/damage to property and 17.8% were assaults. The remaining crimes reported to METRO ran the gamut from drug possessions to disorderly conduct to arrests for outstanding warrants.
“I was riding the METRO rail and there was this couple arguing and they were like physically fighting and he was talking about he was going to shoot her right there and then,” Tramell Carroll said.
According to METRO’s data, 20.4% of these crimes were reported on light rail platforms.
“Where you have more people in one area, you probably tend to see an uptick in activity, criminal activity,” said METRO police chief Vera Bumpers.
In Oct., a woman was stabbed during an argument with another passenger on the light rail. Alexis Jarrell died soon after at a hospital and police do not believe she knew her attacker. Christopher Washington, who has a history of violence according to Harris County court records, has now been charged with murder.
A month after this incident, a man was stabbed to death during an argument with another passenger on the light rail.
Bumpers said it appears the two men knew one another. She said surveillance video shows the now deceased man attacked his acquaintance and that man defended himself. Houston police declined to identify the man who survived the confrontation since charges have not been filed at this time. HPD officials said the case has been referred to a grand jury to determine if charges will be filed. Officials with the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences declined to release the deceased man’s name because his next of kin has not yet been located and notified.
Bumpers said these types of deadly confrontations are rare. METRO data analyzed by KPRC showed only one other murder listed since 2019. That incident occurred in 2019 and involved a man being shot to death at a bus stop on Greens Rd.
“Be very careful about engaging people when you really don’t know them,” Bumpers said.
On Wednesday a man was shot in the leg during an argument onboard a bus. Police said the gunman has not yet been caught.
Bumpers said police haven’t identified any particular trends when it comes to assaults, however, she said police have seen an uptick in run-ins between light rail passengers and the homeless population.
“You don’t know what to expect. What are they going to do, are they going to come and attack you?” said Vaugh. “Try to just kind of keep your distance, but they do sometimes kind of start a scene up to where it makes you uncomfortable.”
Bumpers said her department is addressing these concerns.
“Because of those issues on the light rail and us seeing the data on that, we have increased our personnel on the system,” said Bumpers.
Riders like Vaughn said they have noticed the increased presence.
“I do see a lot of police officers, just sitting there by the train, just checking people or making sure people aren’t doing things,” said Vaughn.
METRO also recently created and deployed its own homeless outreach team. It’s called CARE; Crisis, Assessment, Response, Engagement.
“We’re making a commitment to try to find them shelter or connect them to a social service organization that can assist them,” said Bumpers.
Beyond light rail, METRO data shows 21.5% of crimes reported to police happened onboard buses. However, the bulk of these crimes involved vandalism. Bus Stops accounted for 12.9% of reported crimes, where the robbery was the biggest category by percentage. The data also shows 14.4% of crimes reported at Park-and-Rides. The remaining crimes were reported as occurring at transit centers, bus operation centers, pedestrian crosswalks, along bus routes, and on light rail tracks.
“A lot of those are just crimes of opportunity, just scattered throughout the system,” said Bumpers.
Bumpers said a network of cameras is helping police catch those who commit crimes along METRO routes. Those cameras helped police identify Washington. Bumpers said passengers can help too.
“I would say the number tip that I would give, safety tip, is to stay off of your cellphone,” said Bumpers.
Bumpers said being engrossed in your cellphone, tablet or laptop can make you a target and prevents you from paying attention to what’s happening around you.
“Checking just every now and then, behind me, whose walking behind me, whose beside me, it’s really important to pay attention,” said Bumpers.
Bumpers also strongly suggest passengers, even those who only use METRO intermittently, download the MPD Connect app. The app allows a rider to speak directly to METRO police dispatchers via voice or text. The app also allows riders to send pictures and videos to police.