State funds sought for light rail patrols

Balto. Co. official, Arundel residents say local police should return to stations

July 08, 2005|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County officials and at least one community group in Anne Arundel County say they are planning to continue lobbying the state to restore money for paying local police officers to patrol light rail stops.

The state funding, which had been in place for 11 years, ended with the 2005 fiscal year June 30, and Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said he plans to bring up the issue during a meeting with Deputy Transportation Secretary James F. Ports Jr. today.

Smith said he has also asked Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for a meeting to discuss various transportation issues, including the light rail funding.

"Having Baltimore County-trained police officers at these light rail stations is a tremendous additional benefit for security of these stations," Smith said.

Members of the Linthicum-Shipley Improvement Association in Anne Arundel County have also drafted a letter to send to the state asking for the funding to be restored, said Rik Forgo, the community group's immediate past president.

"We want the cops back," he said.

State Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said that the funding cut to the counties, which received $2.4 million for the patrols during the past fiscal year, does not mean the state is shirking security concerns at its suburban stations.

Instead, state transportation officials decided to replace an outdated enforcement model with a new one that will include increased patrols by the Maryland Transit Administration's police force, as well as the use of fare inspectors on trains and the future addition of cameras to monitor activity, he said.

Those initiatives have already made riding the light rail safer, he said. A comparison of January through April 2004 with the same period this year showed a drop in crime of about 56 percent on the light rail system, he said.

"Basically, we consider it a reallocation of resources," Flanagan said. "We think this is a huge step forward."

But some local leaders say it's not the same as having officers with marked patrol cars at the stations at all times the light rail is running.

And while Flanagan noted that the state can still call on the counties for assistance when the terror alert is raised - as was done yesterday for mass transit systems in the wake of the London bombings - Baltimore County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina said the system is most vulnerable when the alerts expire.

Cutting the subsidy is akin to "letting our guard down for most of the year," said Gardina, a Towson-Perry Hall Democrat.

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