Almost two months after taking control of Metro, the D.C. region mass transit system’s new general manager, Randy Clarke, is announcing changes when it comes to how the system keeps customers safe and responds to people in mental distress.
“The fundamentals of transit have to be, someone has to feel safe and secure using our system and working on our system,” Clarke told WTOP.
For mental health crisis calls, Metro plans to hire several crisis intervention specialists, trained in mental health awareness and de-escalation methods. The announcement, made Wednesday, came as Metro and the Metro Transit Police Department reported a 40% rise in calls involving someone in need of mental health services since the pandemic began.
According to Metro, the specialists will be hired over the coming months, and once on the job will be paired with MTPD officers or operating staff when responding to calls.
“We want to figure out ways to have people that are trained in mental health awareness and de-escalation methods to try to engage those types of individuals and get them the help they really need,” he said.
Clarke said that right now, they are still determining how many crisis intervention specialists will be brought in.
In addition to the changes on how it responds to mental health calls, the system also announced that riders will see more police officers during their commutes, including police riding trains and buses.
The increased police visibility comes as the system, like others across the nation, has seen more cases of public disorder, according to Clarke.
“We want people to feel safe, and people that may have inclinations to do disruptive behavior to know that we have people out there, and if you do commit criminal acts in our system, we are going to see you do it and we’re going to go after you,” Clarke said.
Clarke said this change in how officers are deployed is already underway. While officers will be seen more system wide, there will be a focus on busier stations such as L’Enfant Plaza.
“We are going to be doing this system wide, there’s no question, but we’re also going to do a lot more focused patrols in areas where there’s the most amount of people or where we’ve had higher incidence of criminal behavior,” Clarke said.
Clarke also said staff will be more visible throughout the system as part of a new customer experience liaison outreach program. These staff members will have easily identifiable vests as they work at stations and at transit centers, according to Metro.