- The Washington Times - Friday, December 22, 2000

Metro does not have enough transit police officers to patrol the new Green Line extension, which runs through one of the District's highest-crime areas, The Washington Times has learned.

Police patrols on the Green Line between Anacostia and Branch Avenue stations will be filled with officers on overtime at least until March because of the shortage.

"They've known for years this line was going to open. Why didn't they have officers ready for it?" said a veteran transit police officer. "We've been short-staffed for years, but they keep expanding [bus and subway] lines and won't add to the department."

The Metro Board decided to open the Green Line extension early for the Jan. 20 inauguration, but has done nothing to accelerate hiring of police officers to patrol the line.

In a memo, Metro Transit Police Capt. John P. Triplett said the department needs 11 officers to work day and night shifts on the Green Line extension after it opens on Jan. 13. He asked officers to volunteer to work overtime, or else be ordered into service and have their days off canceled.

Transit police officers will be expected to work 12-hour shifts in the days before Inauguration Day because of expected demonstrations and continue working overtime afterward as well.

Officers said they have been working without a contract for more than two years and without any increase in their numbers.

The number of police officers has remained about 280 since the 1990s, while Metro has added 22 subway stations, including the five Green Line stations that will open Jan. 13.

Metro has 17 new police recruits who are supposed to complete training on Jan. 8, but they will be working with field training officers for 11 weeks and will not be able to fill the shortage until March.

Metro spokesman Ray Feldmann said the Green Line extension originally was scheduled to open March 17, which would have allowed the new officers to fill the shortage.

But he said the board's decision to open the segment early forced transit police officials to work veteran officers overtime.

"These recruits coming in will not be ready to go in service right away," Mr. Feldmann said. "The original starting date was March 17, and there might have been a bit of a gap, but once a decision was made to move the opening date up … that put the police in more of a challenging situation."

Mr. Feldmann said the Metro Transit Police aims to schedule its officers without burdening them or affecting the safety of Metro employees or passengers.

The rookie officers originally were hired to replace about 20 officers who are scheduled to retire this year. About 70 transit police officers are eligible to retire over the next three years.

Police officers said Metro officials are unprepared to recruit enough new officers to fill the upcoming vacancies in their ranks.

"They have not done any planning. They knew this two or three years ago," one transit police officer said.

General Manager Richard A. White told the Metro Board yesterday he is proposing in his 2002 budget the creation of 38 new police jobs, at a cost of $1 million.

"Quite frankly, we have come to the point that we are understaffed," Mr. White told the board's budget committee.

Mr. White said the thin staffing has hurt the transit agency's police presence at its rail and bus stops. "We've got a lot of people saying, 'We don't see police,' " he said.

Metro may look outside the United States to find officers, Mr. White said, just as the agency is looking for mechanics outside of the country.

Metro and the Metro Transit Police celebrate their 25th anniversary this year, and officers can retire after working 25 years.

The Transit Police Department has about 280 officers who patrol the 103-mile subway system, including parking garages and stations. The officers also are responsible for the safety of bus operators and their passengers.

Most days, Metro has about 25 officers on each shift who patrol the entire subway system, transit police officers said. Mr. Feldmann said more than 25 officers are scheduled at any one time, but would not divulge the exact number for security reasons.

Metro does not have a crime problem, per se, Mr. White said, but officers provide passengers with a "comfort level" and seeing an officer gives the perception that the system is safe.

The section of the Green Line opening Jan. 13 will extend from the Anacostia Station and serve five stations in Southeast and southern Prince George's County. The last station will be near Branch Avenue and the Capital Beltway.

Two of the stations are at Alabama Avenue and Southern Avenue, two streets that have been marred with violent crime over the past decade. Mr. Feldmann said Metro is scheduling additional officers to work on the Green Line.

"The line will be going into Southeast, and they have not made any contingency plans other than make us work overtime," said a transit police officer.

• Daniel F. Drummond contributed to this report.

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