Aug. 01--Three Metro police officers and other agency security forces kept a watchful eye on a group of 11 people who were allegedly loitering near a strip mall across from the Forest Park-DeBaliviere MetroLink station.
As they crossed the street Thursday, the officers and security staff approached the group. Two were arrested on outstanding warrants, and the remaining group members were warned about loitering and disturbing the peace, said Metro spokeswoman Dianne Williams.
Responding to customers and community leaders, the transit agency has again stepped up enforcement on its MetroLink light rail system. During the six-month period between Oct. 1 and March 31, arrests were up significantly over the previous year.
Willie McCuller, Metro's director of security and fare enforcement, said the agency is taking a no-nonsense approach to behavior that leads to crime -- or the perception of it. Horseplay. Foul language. Suspicious behavior near stations.
"This is in response to unacceptable behavior," McCuller said. "The quality-of-life issues in close proximity to the MetroLink stations."
McCuller said many of the 776 arrests over those six months were for warrants, including those for people who skipped court appearances for fare evasion tickets. Other arrests recorded last year ranged from disturbing the peace to trespassing.
The arrests represent a nearly 53 percent increase over the same period of 2009-10, when there were 508 arrests.
The result is that those scofflaw riders were taken off the trains before they could create bigger problems on the system later on, he said.
In October, Metro formed six-person enforcement teams composed of uniformed police officers, security guards and Metro's corporate security. The teams can venture beyond Metro property because of the police officers under contract to Metro.
"We have limited assets when it comes to police, security officers and our corporate security staff," McCuller said. "What I had to do was come up with a way to leverage the assets we have."
Last week, someone had complained of loitering at the strip mall across from the Forest Park-DeBaliviere MetroLink station. That same day, Metro police arrested two people on suspicion of marijuana possession near the North Hanley station.
Security details also have been added at the Delmar Loop MetroLink station on weekends, McCuller said. The popular entertainment district has been a focal point of St. Louis and University City police because of nighttime incidents there in recent years.
Some merchants have pointed to the MetroLink station as the portal through which some troublemakers enter the Loop. In April, a St. Louis police officer suffered a minor injury breaking up a fight at the MetroLink station, which is east of the Loop.
"It is one of those things we have to stay on top of and be vigilant about, so all riders and neighbors are in a safe environment," said St. Louis Alderman Lyda Krewson, whose 28th Ward includes the St. Louis portion of the Loop.
Krewson doesn't view MetroLink as the root cause of the trouble because "there are a lot of folks moving around" and "99 percent of them are great folks."
SOME SEE IMPROVEMENT, OTHERS DON'T
Many MetroLink riders say they have not noticed any difference in security in recent months.
"It can always be better, but for me it feels like it's just the same," said rider Stephanie Smith of north St. Louis County. "I still see people get on the Metro (being) loud, disrespectful. I mean it's not bad. I don't feel like my life is in danger, but I think more can be done."
But others say they have noticed some signs of improvement.
Since he has been riding MetroLink, Chris Weekley said he has seen young people roughhousing and even fighting on the MetroLink system.
"I have seen fights with security guards standing right there," said Weekley, of St. Louis. "I haven't seen any fights in a while. It seems better."