King County transit police short-staffed as Metro-related incidents increase



(The Center Square) – King County Metro Transit Police are working to protect transit riders as the number of incidents occurring has increased in the past three months over last year.

Data presented to the King County Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee on Oct. 17 did not present the exact number of incidents at Metro since January 2021, but it did show a bar graph for the comparison of monthly reports. According to the presentation, the number of reported incidents at King County Metro locations since July are higher than incidents in 2022.

Recorded incidents include property damage, drug use, non-destination riders, alcohol, passenger assaults, medical concerns, harassment and unlawful transit conduct. According to the presented data, drug use and non-destination riders make up 27% of total reports each. Passenger assault makes up 5%.

Both August and September 2023 recorded more than 400 incidents, whereas those two months did not reach 400 reports in 2022. However, from January 2022 through June 2023, the number of incidents were consistently higher last year compared to this year. April 2022 had the most cases with over 800. The most in 2023 occurred in March with roughly 650.

Metro Transit Police Chief Todd Morrell said King County Metro is safe and that previous incidents were outliers. Morrell added that when comparing the data to other jurisdictions, he finds King County metro to be “extremely safe.”

One notable example of crime occurring on transit throughout King County includes a man who last year allegedly threw a woman down multiple flights of stairs in a light rail station in the Chinatown-International District of Seattle and stabbed another woman 10 times at a bus stop the same day.

Earlier this month, a fatal shooting took place on a bus in White Center that left one person dead.

“These events, while horrible, I would offer that they are outliers and not the norm,” Morrell said at Tuesday’s King County Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee meeting.

Currently, Metro Transit Police is operating at about 72% staffing, according to Morrell. Despite this, the department has been able to maintain a security presence through the use of voluntary overtime and emphasis patrols.

However, Morrell notes that in order to keep security consistent through the Metro system, transit police officers have to work overtime more.

“The one component that I will say that the rest of my colleagues at the King County Sheriff’s Office don’t necessarily enjoy is that this is all on a volunteer basis,” Morrell said.

King County dedicated $21 million in its 2023-2024 budget to increasing the presence of transit security officers to deter and respond to incidents.

Notably, the funding is primarily for one-time resources to extend the focus of SaFE Reform pilots, which will then be re-evaluated for the following biennium budget.



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