King County Metro Police operates as a division of the King County Sheriff’s Office. At its helm is Metro Transit Police Chief Lisa Mulligan, a 25-year veteran of the sheriff’s office.
“I progressed through the ranks, and after I spent a long time in training positions, a long time in patrol positions and just made my way through the ranks. About six years ago I was promoted to captain and spent a couple years in a precinct before I came to transit,” Mulligan explains. Mulligan has been in the Metro Transit Police department for four years.
King County Metro Police has two divisions, Operations Patrol and Administrative – where detectives and specialty units work. “We are King County Sheriff’s officers; every one of us is either a ranking member or a deputy of the sheriff’s office, and we are just assigned to this contract and we provide policing services for the bus system,” Mulligan says.
One of the main issues the King County Metro Police is battling is lowering the number of operator assaults that occur on Metro’s buses. Fare enforcement is another one of the agency’s large areas of focus. “Fare enforcement is a big issue for us, trying to get our arms around how do we enforce fare better and how do we support our security officers who are doing fare enforcement on a couple of our rapid ride lines,” Mulligan says.
“A new one on the horizon is we have a ride-free area that has historically been an area of our downtown Seattle core that’s been ride-free, no one pays, and that is going away. So we’re, as an agency and as a police agency, trying to wrap our arms around what does that mean to each of us in our own rights and how do we deal with it and policing will be part of that.”
The change to the free-ride area goes into effect in the fall of 2012. Currently the transit police and Metro are trying to determine just how this will affect all involved and what adjustments will need to be made. “It goes right into the topic of fare enforcement and now that we’re going to need to enforce fare in an area that we hadn’t done that before what does it change, what does it look like and how do we do it with the recourses we have?,” says Mulligan. “It’s a resource discussion at this point. I think we have a pretty good idea of how we’ll do it, but it’s a question of how will we do it effectively with the resources we have and so it’s just an ongoing discussion.”
Back in 2003, King County Metro Police created a suspension policy that would make it possible for transit police to suspend individuals from riding the bus if they were found to be in violation of rules or behaving in a way that causes fear among other passengers, Mulligan explains. Prior to this policy, the transit police trespassed people from metro properties and buses based on officer discretion at the time.
“Two things were going on, one was that we felt that it was important to acknowledge the fact that riding buses is a privilege — it’s not a right it’s a privilege. That is a really important one, and that we want to keep people riding buses if they are going to ride right,” Mulligan says. “If they ride within the rules and if they behave in a way that doesn’t frighten or hurt other people, we want to do everything we can to ensure that they can ride a bus; but if they are behaving in a way that is criminal or makes people afraid or is just considered outside the bounds of what is good conduct while riding a bus that we would want to have the ability to keep them from riding buses.”
Back when this policy was being implemented, there was a movement to reduce certain laws from misdemeanors to infractions, which Mulligan says gave them less ability to handle a problem in the moment.
“Handling a problem in the moment is a pretty important thing, so everybody that was involved in this process got their brains together and said what can we do to have an immediate impact on behavior and at the same time ensure that people’s privilege to ride the bus is allowed and offered them in the event that they are riding in a way that is appropriate,” she says.