TriMet plans to hire Portland Patrol Inc. to provide up to 50 private security officers to enforce the transit agency’s code on buses and trains.
The new "transit peace officers" will not be armed, but they will be empowered to issue warning, citations and exclusions for code violations, including fare evasion. The security officers will be former police officers or military personnel, and they’ll report to the Transit Police Division.
"One of the things we wanted to do is upgrade the number, the quality and the training of the security we provide," said TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane.
Portland Patrol Inc. provides private security in the Downtown Clean and Safe District, which is overseen by the Portland Business Alliance. The company, founded by a former Portland police commander, also provides security on the Portland Streetcar and in municipal garages.
Under the contract approved by TriMet’s board on Wednesday, 15 of the officers would be assigned to TriMet immediately, with 30 by the end of the year and 50 by 2020. It will cost $620,000 for six months of service in the current fiscal year, $2.9 million the following year and $4.1 million in the 2020 fiscal year.
They will supplement the fare inspectors and field supervisors employed by TriMet, private security guards contracted from the firm G4S and the Transit Police Division.
The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757, which represents front-line TriMet employees including fare inspectors, said TriMet is improperly outsourcing that work to a private firm in violation of its contract. Union officials said the policy would lead to a labor complaint.
"It’s unfair, and it shouldn’t happen," said Shirley Block, the union’s president.
TriMet officials said the transit peace officers are a different job classification more akin to the Transit Police Division. Its members, assigned from various police agencies, are not TriMet employees and fall under the Portland Police Bureau command structure.
"The notion of having outside contracts, if you will, as part of our overall team is not new," he said.
Security on TriMet has been a topic of focus since May, when a man stabbed and killed two other riders on a MAX train and injured a third. The men had intervened when the assailant had directed slurs at other riders, police said.
Since then, TriMet has struggled with how to respond to safety concerns. Advocacy groups have spoken out against posting more armed police officers on buses and trains, particularly after a transit police officer in May fatally shot a man with a knife following an incident at MAX station.
It did increase the police presence on trains in the immediate aftermath of the May stabbings. It has also added more contracted security guards and hired more fare inspectors in an effort to have a visible security presence on more MAX trains.
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Road construction is causing delays and detours in the metro area.