CapMetro Board approves resolution to establish dedicated police department

Sept. 1, 2021
The program could take more than 18 months to develop with staff saying board approval did not represent the end of community engagement on the subject.

The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (CapMetro) Board of Directors voted Monday to proceed with establishing a dedicated police department.

Much of the discussion surrounding the action item centered around the ability for community groups to continue their involvement in the development of the police department.

Gardner Tabon, CapMetro executive vice president and chief safety officer, outlined the authority’s three-pronged approach to public safety, which includes public safety ambassadors, intervention specialists and, now with the approval of the board, transit police.

CapMetro currently contracts with more than 100 off-duty Austin Police Department (APD) officers to provide security on its system. However, Tabon explained the need of having a transit-focused security unit, noting off-duty officers are “APD officers first” and they are obligated to go where APD needs them to be.

“The emphasis [of the new CapMetro police department] will be to use - first and foremost - our community intervention specialist, as well as public safety ambassadors, so we won’t have to use police to intervene, but there will be occasions when an officer is needed,” said Tabon. “It’s about protecting people of all ages that ride our vehicles and that’s the main focus.”

Tabon highlighted results of a recent public safety survey conducted among authority operators, frontline staff and customers. The majority of customers believe CapMetro’s state of security is good, but said they would “feel safer with more cameras and visible security symbols, uniformed CapMetro staff and/or police officers.”

More than 63 percent of frontline staff believe security needs improvement with 30 percent reporting they felt unsafe while working and 24 percent reporting feeling unsafe at bus stops and stations. Staff reported wanting to see police officers and/or uniformed staff to create a sense of security on vehicles and at stations.

Tabon said the effort to establish the police department has been ongoing for about two years and the board’s approval of the resolution sets into motion actions that could take more than 18 months to develop.

Immediate next steps for the program development include hiring a security consultant to help form what the department would look like and CapMetro has put forth retired Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority Chief Wanda Dunham to fill this role. She led a more than 400-member police department and has more than 30 years of experience.

The board will also address funding of the new department in its FY22 budget and a report will be provided to the board in early 2022 with progress made.

As far as community engagement goes, Tabon noted community outreach will ramp up to help guide program development. During his presentation, he offered questions that the authority will be seeking answers to as the program develops such as what characteristics make a good police chief and examples of police training programs that are “getting it right.”

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.

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