MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Another source of tension between the local and federal worlds of the city can be found in law enforcement. And the latest example of that tension is playing out right now on Metro. It's the topic of our weekly transportation segment, "From A to B."
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Like many police departments across the country, Metro's transit police department is facing a budget cut even though the crime rate on Metro's buses and trains reached a five year high in 2010. But not every part of Metro's budget is declining as transportation reporter, David Schultz, tells us, the transit agency now has more money than ever for terrorism prevention thanks to an increasing number of federal grants.
MR. DAVID SCHULTZ
Late last November on a Sunday evening, the Channel seven news began with this story...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #1
And we begin with breaking news from a Metro station in Northwest Washington. A person was violently attacked tonight at the Petworth Metro station. (unintelligible) ...
The victim had reportedly been stabbed in the throat. Just a few weeks later, there was another big Metro security story leading the news.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #2
Metro officials announced today that they're going to start doing random bag searches on Metro. Julie (unintelligible) ...
Random bag checks and a stabbing at Petworth, they're a perfect illustration of the different kinds of threats Metro is dealing with, even as it tries to do more with less. Next week, Metro's board of directors will vote on the general managers proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. And that proposal contains a one percent cut for the police department.
One percent might not sound like much but consider this, if the board approves the budget, it will be the first time in at least six years that the police department will have less money than it did the year before.
MR. MICHAEL TABORN
Should we ever want to have more police officers? I think every chief of police would say, yeah, bring me more police officers.
That's the Chief himself, Michael Taborn.
But in light of the budget, we have to do everything within our means to provide the level of security and safety.
And one way Taborn is doing that is by collaborating with other law enforcement agencies in the D.C. region.
This system belongs to everybody in the region. It's not just a Metro situation. So if a bus is patrolling in Prince George's county in the District of Columbia, if their police officers could hop on the bus, say hello to the bus operator, you know, ride it a block.
Taborn says his counterparts from across the region told him, they will be able to help out. And in that, Taborn, is very lucky. Police departments all over the country are facing serious budget cuts.
MR. JON SHANE
What we're seeing now are concessions on behalf of unions that we've never seen before. And we're not seeing the crime control programs that everybody used to enjoy.
Jon Shane, a criminal justice professor at John Jay College in New York says the recession has brought on an unprecedented downsizing of state and local governments. And that's fundamentally changing the way law enforcement works. More with less is a common phrase heard in police stations everywhere. But what's the role of the federal government in all of this? Shane says, it's not much.
We kind of frown on the fact that we might even suggest there's a national police force of any kind. So when you talk about funding police departments at the local level, you can't have your cake and eat it too. The federal government is not going to say, take our money and do what you want with it.
But there is one tiny corner of the federal government designed to do exactly that, give money to local law enforcement agencies.
MR. BERNARD MELEKIAN
The agency decides what it is that they need those officers to do, to do that. I can't stress enough, the local community gets to define how it uses that money.
Bernard Melekian runs the Department of Justice's office of community oriented policing services, also known as COPS. As Melekian mentioned, his job is to give grants directly to towns and cities and as a former police chief himself, Melekian knows just how badly those grants are needed.
In my 27 year career in law enforcement, I've never seen layoffs and resource reductions at the local level that have occurred, the last two or three years.
And yet, Melekian's office can only do so much. Its budget this year is around $250 million, only a quarter of what it was in 2009. Compare that with the Department of Homeland Security's preparedness grant program, which gives out more than $2 billion a year to local agencies for terrorism prevention and response.
Melekian says, ultimately this can help communities too because officers on patrol looking for bombs also deter other types of crime.
Fighting crime and fighting terrorism are not mutually exclusive.
That's the philosophy Metro has adopted as well. While money for crime fighting dwindles, Metro status as a high valued terrorist target opens the door to a wealth of homeland security dollars. In addition to those random bag checks, DHS is paying for Metro to beef up its chemical detection capabilities and install a new air vent system that can detect an intrusion.
Though it's unclear exactly how air vent detection can also help prevent someone from stealing your iPod or from stabbing you in the throat. Getting back to that stabbing in the Petworth station last fall, Metro won't release any information on the incident. So we don't know if the suspect was identified or caught or if the victim even survived.
Six months later, crime is still on the minds of riders at Petworth. Teri Lott says she actually witnessed a recent assault.
MS. TERI LOTT
The other night, I was at Deanwood and some young kids beat up a old lady, you know. And the cops came.
Lott says, despite that, she still feels safe riding Metro because she sees more officers on the platforms and in the trains.
I've seen more of a police presence. So, I mean, that's really, like, all you can do.
But while Lott thinks those officers are there to protect her from being robbed or assaulted, there's a good chance they're actually there looking for potential terrorists. It's the difference between homeland security and hometown security. I'm David Schultz.
Time for a quick break. But when we get back, exploring a Georgetown church with a rich local legacy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER
To be able to feel the heritage of people in Washington, D.C., then you have really been to the mountain top.
That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection" here on WAMU 88.5.
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