Violent crime on city streets and around transit hubs are in the news every day. A little old lady gets punched in the face at a bus stop, someone is pushed down near train tracks in the metro, folks are being robbed and verbally assaulted at what seems like every turn. Covid necessarily resulted in a deep drop in public transportation usage and empty stations were making crime easier to commit. Crime has been keeping transit customers away, even as things are opening up.
Many cities have turned to private security to bolster safety for their bus and train passengers. Attacks on metro sites over the past year prompted Miami Dade to increase security officers on patrols and posts.
St. Louis government is adding private security officers while trying to improve its relations with local police. A high profile incident involving Denver transit security officers using excessive force has that city’s officials struggling to determine how to best secure its transit hubs.
The main issue is money. Security officers are roughly paid half what police officers are paid. Cities have to scrape for budget if they are intent on using police officers. Yet sparse security coverage will fail to bring about the level of safety and security that the public demands and deserves. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority has taken the step to employ more private security at a cost of about $2 million per month, to insure there are enough security officers posted throughout that very large transit system. Although the NYPD and Metro police are responsible for security at transit stations, those agencies have been unable to provide enough officers to effectively inhibit the rise in metro crime.
Some people believe that bringing more private security officers on post can work as a successful deterrent to crime. The idea is that the visibility that those officers provide, in addition to the customer service elements, will at the very least make transit clients feel safer, and bring them back to using public systems.
There are concerns that private security officers lack the training to do a good job. Most agree that those officers are meant to observe and report and may not be sufficiently qualified to intervene to de-escalate heated situations, to know how to deal with the mentally impaired, or how to successfully cope with the sheer numbers of people moving through transportation hubs. Regardless of where security officers are deployed, whether its at Grand Central Station in Manhattan or at a local mall or High School, there is no question that training is critical. Not being properly or sufficiently trained leads to poor security and for that matter, opens up liability. Security officers can offer real value, when managed correctly.