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New Westside MAX patrol says crime on the rails won't be tolerated

by: Jonathan House, Beaverton Police Officer Ryan Potter checks for fare tickets on a MAX train at the Willow Creek/185th Avenue stop Wednesday afternoon. Potter is part of a five-person patrol that will increase security on Westside MAX trains running between the Sunset Transit Center and Hillsboro.

Westside light-rail passengers may have noticed more officers in uniform riding trains during the Wednesday afternoon commute.

TriMet transit users can expect to see a lot more of a police presence on MAX trains and buses with the launch of the new Westside Precinct.

The new team is led by Hillsboro Police Sgt. Stacy Jepson and includes Beaverton Police Officers Ryan Potter and Jason Billings; Hillsboro Officer Dave Bergstrom and Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Scott Butts.

The special TriMet unit will be responsible for patrolling trains and buses between the 16 MAX stations stretching from the Sunset Transit Center in Cedar Mill to Hatfield Government Center in Hillsboro.

'This new Westside Precinct with dedicated police officers will increase security on our transit system,' said Fred Hansen, TriMet's general manager. 'I believe this will be effective in improving safety on our system and the perception of safety by our riders.'

The westside unit will work in conjunction with the Portland Police Bureau's Transit Police Division, but will have 'more autonomy to make decisions about where to deploy its members during their shifts,' said Mary Fetsch, TriMet spokeswoman.

The year-long pilot project is part of TriMet's effort to improve safety measures and boost enforcement efforts throughout the system in the aftermath of an increase in criminal activity.

Between Nov. 1, 2006, and Oct. 31, 2007, the Beaverton Police Department handled a total of 1,200 priority calls for service at the seven Beaverton stations alone. That figure does not include thousands of other self-initiated calls performed by Beaverton officers.

'The transit system is part of our community that needs to be policed, and it needs to be policed full time, efficiently and effectively,' Jepson said. 'We have a great crew and I think we're going to do some great things.

'Hopefully, our team is going to grow. We want to be as proactive and visible as possible.'

The key to accomplishing those goals is a strong partnership between local law enforcement, TriMet and the community, said Beaverton Police Chief David Bishop.

'This precinct will provide a proactive law enforcement presence on MAX trains and buses,' Bishop said. 'It's a good beginning.

'It's critical to send the message to criminals that it will no longer be business as usual - we won't tolerate them causing problems on the MAX, buses or around transit centers.'

Bishop joined other Washington County law enforcement leaders last November to push TriMet for creation of a jurisdictionally specific, multi-agency westside enforcement team.

Having the team would allow members of the unit to remain on the west side of the Vista Ridge tunnels and be modeled after Washington County's successful interagency teams, partnering to fight fraud, identity theft, gangs, narcotics and other major crimes. The unit would focus on the diverse challenges facing each westside jurisdiction.

'Having officers familiar with their geographical challenges and visible on the trains and platforms is critical,' Bishop said. 'This type of community policing makes the officers available and approachable for passengers to report suspicious people and criminal activity as it's occurring.'

The success of this pilot program hinges on the Westside Precinct's ability to partner with the community, he added.

He feels passengers will be more likely to report unwanted or criminal activity if an officer is present and if the suspect is still in the area, rather than having to wait to call authorities when they get off the train or get home.

Bishop is pleased that the Westside Precinct stepped into action this month.

'I feel very positive,' he said. 'I think the fact TriMet agreed to partner on forming the unit is a step in the right direction.'

The precinct will be housed within the Hillsboro Police Department's Eastside Precinct.

In the next year, TriMet and all of its law enforcement partners will monitor the effectiveness of the precinct and determine if any changes are necessary, Fetsch said.

A similar Eastside Precinct is on track to begin patrols April 1. The eastside team of 10 officers will patrol light-rail trains and buses between Gateway Transit Center and Cleveland Avenue stations.