Westside MAX patrol wants to put brakes on rail crime

Enforcement - Program is modeled after interagency teams
by: Jonathan House, Hillsboro Police Officers Dave Bergstrom and Stacey Jepson patrol a MAX train at the Willow Creek/185th Avenue station March 12. The officers are part of a westside precinct patrol that will increase security on MAX trains in the westernmost part of Washington County.

Westside light-rail passengers may have noticed more uniformed officers during their afternoon commutes.

And riders will be seeing more police on MAX trains and buses now that the new westside precinct is open for business.

The new team, led by Hillsboro Police Sgt. Stacy Jepson. 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 patrol trains and buses between 16 MAX stations from the Sunset Transit Center in Cedar Mill to the Hatfield Government Center in Hillsboro. Officials have high hopes for the team.

'This new westside precinct with dedicated police officers will increase security on our transit system,' said Fred Hansen, TriMet's general manager.

The westside unit will work 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 and boost enforcement throughout the system in the aftermath of increased 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 MAX stations alone. That figure does not include thousands of other calls initiated 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, the new team's leader, said. 'We have a great crew and I think we're going to do some great things.

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

The key to accomplishing those goals will be 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 to create the jurisdictionally specific, multi-agency westside enforcement team.

The team concept would allow members of the unit to remain on the west side of the Vista Ridge tunnel and be modeled after Washington County's other successful interagency teams that partner to fight fraud, identity theft, gangs, narcotics and other major crimes. The unit will 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 pilot program's success hinges on the westside precinct's ability to partner with the community, Bishop 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.

During the next year the program will be monitored for effectiveness, Fetsch noted.

A similar eastside precinct - a team of 10 officers who will patrol light-rail trains and buses between the Gateway Transit Center and Cleveland Avenue stations - is on track to begin April 1.