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Tom Tully

October 30, 1998

Special to Passenger Transport

DART Transit Police: A Commitment to Customer Safety

While many factors have contributed to the recent ridership increases at Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), the customer safety provided by the agency's own police force may be the most essential, in the view of DART's Executive Vice President/General Manager Victor H. Burke.

"If people don't feel safe on a DART vehicle, they won't ride," explains Burke, himself a former military policeman. "Our passengers are our lifeblood. We cannot afford to lose them because they don't feel safe in the system."

The commitment to passenger safety was a key component of DART's plan to open Texas' first light rail system in 1996.

"We were planning to invest $850 million in a light rail system," Burke said. "We knew that for the system to be successful, our riders had to feel safe. That thinking was the basis for creating the Police Deployment Plan that led to the force we have today."

DART's Transit Police unit has grown to a department of 122 sworn Texas peace officers and seven administrative personnel, a far cry from 1988, when the force's lone officer was Juan Rodriguez, now DART's Chief of Police.

In fact, the force now enjoys the reputation of being one of the elite police operations in the Dallas area, as attested by a peer review conducted last year by the Rail Safety Review Board of the American Public Transportation Association.

"The panel was extremely impressed with the caliber and dedication of the officers and management of the DART Transit Police Division," the panel wrote in its final report. "There was, without a doubt, a great deal of pride in being part of the DART Transit Police Division and providing a first-class law enforcement and security service for DART's customers and citizens of and visitors to Dallas, Texas."

DART and its Transit Police department cover 700 square miles of north Texas real estate. DART has 13 member cities, with Dallas being the largest. More than 280,000 people daily use DART's network of buses, light rail and commuter rail trains and HOV lanes.

"There's not an area of DART operations that doesn't need a Transit Police response once in a while," says Chief Rodriguez. "Our challenge is to allocate our resources so that we're best positioned to fulfill both patrol and response obligations."

Patrol responsibilities include maintaining one officer on each light rail train set in service. This requires 38 patrol officers daily. An additional 44 officers are assigned to uniformed bus patrol daily, and 18 more are involved with HOV patrols.

DART also fields bicycle officers who patrol the downtown Dallas rail and bus stations, and undercover officers assigned to Special Operations.

"We have routes that are designated priority routes, meaning there have been an unacceptable number of offenses of one type or another," said Rodriguez. "We place undercover officers where we know criminals have been in operation and solve the problem," he said. "Our force has been responsible for a number of arrests thanks to this program."

With DART ridership constantly on the increase, DART plans to add more Transit Police accordingly. In 1999, for example, 22 people will be added to the department, most of them transit officers.

"It's a constant challenge to maintain DART's high level of safety," noted Burke. "We already receive around 100 calls a day for assistance, and as our service and passenger loads grow, we know that our response load will increase as well."

Burke and Rodriguez are confident that the Transit Police will continue to meet the needs of DART's customers.

"We now have a quality force of officers and leaders, good equipment, and an established tradition of quality," said Rodriguez. "Those elements will be critical as DART's Transit Police Department fulfills its mission."

 

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