Combating crime on your commute: Examining incidents on METRO

Public intoxication is one of most frequent crimes reported to department

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Every day, hundreds of thousands of people climb aboard Metro buses and light rail cars that are part of a transit system with 9,000 bus stops and more than 40 light rail stops. With that many people crossing paths on a daily basis, there are bound to be a few bumps in the road.

Channel 2 Investigates compiled more than two years' worth of data to see what types of crimes passengers and Metro employees are facing, as well as where these crimes are happening more frequently.

According to Metro’s data, there were 596 serious crimes reported in fiscal year 2015, 576 serious crimes reported in fiscal year 2016 and 316 serious crimes reported from October 2016 through the end of May 2017. These crimes involve everything from robbery to aggravated assault to auto theft.

However, these numbers have to be taken in the context of the sheer volume of passengers using Metro every month. In just the month of May, Metro logged a ridership of 7.3 million between buses, light rail and park and rides.
   
What really keeps Metro police officers hopping is the so-called lesser offenses: including criminal mischief, public intoxication, petty theft and assaults, both physical and verbal.

In fiscal year 2015, Metro police logged nearly 1,926 of these calls, in fiscal year 2016 there were 2,257 of these calls and between October 2016 and the end of May there were 982 of these crimes reported. Among the dozens of crimes that make up this secondary category, three crimes emerged as the most frequently reported: criminal mischief, public intoxication and assaults.

“It’s definitely a different kind of policing,” Metro police Chief Vera Bumpers said.

The challenge is dealing with a mass of people constantly on the move, Bumpers said. This is why Metro uses a mix of officers patrolling bus routes, bicycle officers, officers on foot and fare inspectors. This last group is made up of civilians who constantly check to make sure anyone on a light rail platform or on the train has paid the fare. Bumpers said officers and inspectors work diligently to ensure no one is simply loitering on the platforms without paying.

Since buses and light rail make up the bulk of Metro’s system, these are the two spots where the vast majority of crimes are reported. Bumpers said her department is constantly monitoring these numbers to immediately address upticks.

Metro is also trying to lower the crime numbers by bulking up its ranks. There are 191 uniformed officers, and Bumpers said that number will increase by 40 percent in the next three years. The number of fare inspectors also recently tripled from 15 to 45.

Since public intoxication is one of the most frequent crimes reported to the department, Metro uses a public intoxication team.

Transit agency records show an average of more than 250 transports a year to the city’s sobering center.

“We're probably one of their number one customers,” Bumpers said.

Metro is also trying to make it easier and more direct for passengers to report crime. For example, if you dial #MPD on your phone, you'll be connected directly with Metro police dispatch. There's also the MPD Connect app that lets passengers report problems and even live chat with dispatch.

Bumpers said officers are also constantly educating passengers on paying attention to what is going on around them as a way to help spot potential problems before a situation gets out of control.

“(Which entails) not being so focused on being on their cellphones or texting, making sure their electronics are put away,” Bumpers said.

Take a look at the charts posted below to get a sense of the numbers, then tune into KPRC at 10 p.m. Thursday to see our sit-down interview with METRO police chief Vera Bumpers. App users, click here to view the charts.

 

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