Policing the Light Rail

April 28, 1994

State transit officials are wise to quickly nip in the bud the rise in crime on the Central Light Rail line and buses. The question is whether they're nipping hard enough. Attempting to reach out to youths who live along the light rail line, some of whom are responsible for most of the crime and intimidation of passengers, is good as far as it goes. But nothing discourages potential criminals or vandals as effectively as the sight of a blue uniform.

Mass Transit Administration officials are worried that rowdy kids, male and female, will discourage people from riding on the new rail line. So far it has proved increasingly popular, but it wouldn't take many serious incidents to frighten some riders back into their automobiles. Most of the trouble-makers barely qualify as teen-agers, and the disruptive incidents peak immediately after school lets out. So the MTA is targeting youths who live along the rail line.

As a possible creative, long-range weapon against teen-age vandals, rowdies and perhaps petty criminals, the MTA has a good idea. It is organizing a summer jobs program for 100 young people from all the neighborhoods along the line in cooperation with their community organizations. The idea is that youths from different neighborhoods will learn more about each other and return to their areas as role models for others. That's fine, as far as it goes. But it doesn't go far enough.

At best the youth program will not pay off this summer and perhaps not next year either. In the meantime the upsurge in crime continues. Most of it is not in the serious category as far as police are concerned, but it is serious enough for the victims to think twice about returning to mass transit. And serious enough for juveniles to get arrested, in larger numbers than adults.

The MTA is increasing its policing on trains and stations, including plainclothes officers who can catch young thugs in the act. But the MTA can't put a policeman in every car (moving from one car in a train to another is impossible). It could, however, concentrate officers on its trains and its stations during the hour or two after school lets out, when the trouble is most prevalent. City and county police could back them up during the same hours. That would fit the Baltimore Police Department's new policy of posting officers when and where crime is most frequent. And it would buy some time for outreach programs to work.

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