- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2000

Metro's board of directors grilled General Manager Richard A. White and the transit agency's police chief yesterday about a "zero-tolerance" policy that led to a 12-year-old girl being carted off in handcuffs for eating french fries in a Metro station.
"A war was declared and the board did not know anything about it," Decatur W. Trotter, a Maryland board member, said of Metro Transit Police's stepped-up efforts to crack down on people eating food inside the Red Line Tenleytown-American University station.
Adult violators usually get a citation, but 12-year-old Ansche Hedgepeth and about a dozen other juveniles had metal handcuffs slapped on their wrists and were fingerprinted during the week-long undercover operation in the last full week of October.
"This isn't the case of someone doing something really criminal," said Christopher E. Zimmerman, a Democrat and member of both the Metro and Arlington County boards. "We don't go around all the time arresting people who had french fries at the platform."
Metro spokesman Ray Feldmann said officers had no choice but to detain the children because, under a 1982 D.C. law, police cannot just issue a citation to a law-breaking juvenile.
Leigh Slaughter, D.C. Corporation Council special deputy, said there is no mechanism in place for juveniles to be released after being issued a citation.
Adults can receive a fine of up to $300 for eating on the train or in the station.
Ansche was sentenced to community-service work at a Boys and Girls Club in the District for her violation of the eating rules. The seventh-grader at Deal Junior High School also has had to undergo counseling services.
Mr. Zimmerman thinks Metro is using a D.C. law as a scapegoat for its officers' bad judgment.
"I don't think it's appropriate for them to blame the District of Columbia," Mr. Zimmerman said after the board meeting.
In reaction to the police actions, Metro is crafting a new policy to allow officers to put juveniles who commit "quality of life" crimes such as eating and drinking into a diversion program.
"We'll try to work an arrangement out with the District," Mr. White said after the board meeting. "That provides us with an alternative mechanism short of actually needing to arrest juveniles for offenses."
Another Maryland board member, Carlton R. Sickles, said he wants to hold a hearing on police policy before the safety committee he heads.
Some Metro Transit Police officers, speaking anonymously, said the handcuffing of a 12-year-old should have been avoided.
"There's nothing to say we can't use discretion," said a veteran Transit Police officer. "This was just an overzealous captain trying to look good in the chief's eyes."
The officer said emphasis has been placed on citing people with eating and drinking on Metro property since Chief Barry J. McDevitt in 1997 implemented a quota system on citations given to passengers caught snacking.
Chief McDevitt was actually notified of the crackdown after captains and other officers ordered the stepped-up efforts at the station, Mr. Feldmann said.
Mr. Zimmerman and other board members were upset the police went forward with such an aggressive crackdown without letting the board know.
"I think you have gone beyond operational … and it's a question of policy," Mr. Zimmerman said.
While the police policies are open for discussion, Mr. White said the board shouldn't have been surprised by its actions.
"Our police department operates under a operating policy that the board is aware of, quite aware of, that goes back 15 years," Mr. White said. "It's a zero-tolerance policy."
Metro has come under criticism in the past for its strict anti-food policies. In 1980, a 25-year-old woman filed a lawsuit against the transit agency after she was arrested, strip-searched and jailed for more than a day for taking a bite out of a sandwich.
In other business, the board approved roughly $500 million in contracts, including a $361 million award to Alstom Transportation Inc. of Hornell, N.Y., to overhaul 364 rail cars.
The board also gave the green light to the $35 million purchase of 100 compressed-natural-gas buses and the construction of a fueling station, as well as the modification of a bus garage on Bladensburg Road, which will cost $8 million each.
Jim Keary contributed to this report.

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