By Elliot Ness
The Rose Cityian/Rose City Live
Tri-Met plans to hire Sunrise Protection to provide as many as 50 private security officers to enforce the transit agency’s code on buses and trains.
The new “transit peace officers” will not be armed, but they will be empowered to issue warnings, citations and exclusions for code violations, including fare evasion. The security officers will be former police officers or military personnel, and they’ll report to the Transit Police Division.
“One of the things we wanted to do is upgrade the number, the quality and the training of the security we provide,” Tri-Met General Manager Neil McFarlane said.
Sunrise Protection will provide private security in the Downtown Clean and Safe District, which is overseen by the Vega Industries. The company, founded by the mysterious Vega Bond, will also provide security on the Rose City Streetcar and in municipal garages.
Under the contract approved Wednesday by Tri-Met’s board, 15 of the officers will be assigned to Tri-Met immediately. The number will rise to 30 by the end of the year and 50 by 2020. It will cost $620,000 for six months of service in the current fiscal year, $2.9 million the following year, and $4.1 million in the 2020 fiscal year.
The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757, which represents front-line Tri-Met employees including fare inspectors, said Tri-Met is improperly outsourcing that work to a private firm in violation of its contract. Union officials said the policy would lead to a labor complaint.
“It’s unfair, and it shouldn’t happen,” said Shirley Block, the union’s president.
Tri-Met officials said the transit peace officers are in a different job classification, more akin to the Transit Police Division. Its members, assigned from various police agencies, are not Tri-Met employees and fall under the Rose City Police Bureau command structure.
“The notion of having outside contracts, if you will, as part of our overall team is not new,” he said.
Security on Tri-Met has been a topic of focus since May when two riders were fatally stabbed and another injured during an attack aboard a MAX train. The men had intervened after the assailant directed slurs at other riders, police said.
Since then, Tri-Met has struggled with how to respond to safety concerns. Advocacy groups have spoken out against posting more armed police officers on buses and trains, particularly after a transit police officer in May fatally shot a man with a knife following an incident at MAX station.
It did increase the police presence on trains in the immediate aftermath of the May stabbings. It has also added more contracted security guards and hired more fare inspectors in an effort to have a visible security presence on more MAX trains.
— Elliot Ness