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MAX-line crime needs bigger fix

It’s highly unfortunate that it took a public outcry over the beating of a 71-year-old man at a Gresham light-rail station Saturday to finally rivet TriMet’s attention on safety issues. But even a long-overdue response can lead to urgently needed changes. Much is at stake for TriMet. The regional transit agency is in the midst of major rail expansions in Clackamas and on the downtown Portland transit mall. Next September, it will help operate a new commuter rail line connecting Beaverton, Tigard, Tualatin and Wilsonville. And in the future, the agency has plans to expand MAX to downtown Milwaukie as well as aspirations to provide service to Vancouver, Wash. Wherever MAX goes, public safety is an essential priority. Yet growing numbers of the region’s residents are questioning whether MAX serves as a conduit for crime into their neighborhoods. Even before Saturday’s incident, in which a 15-year-old brutally beat a Sandy man with a baseball bat, public concern was mounting over unruly and unlawful behavior witnessed on light-rail cars and near MAX stations. The frustration had grown to the point where the city of Gresham had decided to deploy its own police force to expand light-rail security. All jurisdictions must react Increased safety patrols in one community are only a partial answer to the larger issue of MAX safety. If criminals are using trains to travel from town to town — and Gresham has compelling statistical evidence that this is the case — then every city served by MAX must take equally dramatic steps to help transit riders feel safe on the trains. Such a regional discussion is what TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen called for earlier this week when he belatedly acknowledged that MAX crime is an urgent problem. Hansen is calling for a regional safety summit to be attended by all jurisdictions served by light rail. He also is vowing to crack down on crime by installing better station lighting, buying more security cameras, increasing the number of contracted security officers and stepping up the presence of TriMet personnel on trains. We encourage all jurisdictions to join this MAX safety initiative. But we also believe TriMet must be willing to accept even greater accountability for safety along the MAX system. Gresham officials, for example, have complained for years that TriMet’s presence brings crime into neighborhoods around MAX stations. But TriMet’s response has been to say that it is only responsible for what occurs on its property, and not beyond it. TriMet’s denial is a case of situational ethics, where the agency is willing to take credit for promoting hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of economic development and revitalization along MAX lines, yet is not responsible for perceived public safety problems adjoining the light-rail line. Higher-level strategy needed Since MAX trains travel through two counties (soon to be three), as well as numerous cities and unincorporated areas, we think light-rail safety requires a broader multijurisdictional law enforcement strategy. We think the Oregon State Police are best suited to convene and oversee such a multijurisdictional effort, especially given the drug- and gang-related aspects of this safety matter. The MAX system is one of Portland’s premier accomplishments. It is to everyone’s advantage for the system to continue to be operationally successful. But equally, it is in everyone’s interest — including the state of Oregon’s — for light-rail and MAX neighborhood safety to be immediately improved and sustained.