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Morgan Lyons

September 15, 1999

Meeting the Challenge of DART's Expansion

At 10th Anniversary, DART Transit Police Still Growing

The Transit Police Department of Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) celebrates its 10th anniversary in September 1999, looking back at a track record of accomplishment, and looking forward to the challenge of 23 additional miles of light rail and a growing High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane system that must be patrolled.

Created on September 19, 1989 as a one-man department, the DART Transit Police force has grown to 143 sworn Texas peace officers and eight administrative personnel. Much of the growth was connected to the 1996 opening of DART's 20-mile light rail starter system.

DART TRANSIT POLICE 10TH ANNIVERSARY: DART Police Chief Juan Rodriguez (left) celebrates the agency's 10th anniversary with DART Executive Vice President/General Manager Victor Burke (center) and Dallas Police Chief Ben Click.We were planning to invest $850 million in a light rail starter system, and we knew that for it to be successful, our riders had to feel safe," said DART Executive Vice President/General Manager Victor H. Burke.

For that reason, DART has committed to assigning officers to the light rail daily, a service that no other transit agency in the nation provides. This year, the force added 21 new officers. Under a U. S. Department of Justice grant, 18 more officers will be hired in 2000.

The plan is working. At a September 15 luncheon recognizing the tenth anniversary, Dallas Police Chief Ben Click noted that "the public sees DART as very safe, and as a result, ridership continues to grow beyond expectations."

Indeed, DART's rail system, the first in Texas, has been an unqualified success. Trains are full at rush hours, new businesses are springing up around rail stations, and DART member cities are pushing the agency to rush the lines to their city limits.

As planners and construction managers go forward with extending DART's Red Line from Park Lane north of Dallas to Richardson and Plano, and the Blue line from Mockingbird Station northeast to the DART Member City of Garland, DART's Chief of Police Juan Rodriguez concentrates on deploying his forces to secure these additional trains.

Yet light rail is only one of the Transit Police Department's responsibilities. Officers must also patrol DART's 37 miles of HOV lanes, cover the downtown Transit Mall and two downtown bus transfer centers, ride DART buses, and be available to respond anywhere in the 700-square-mile service area.

"We're currently planning a redeployment to give better coverage and backup for our officers," Rodriguez said. "We're also anticipating the delivery of new motorcycles and squad cars that will improve our officers' safety and mobility."

The presence of Transit Police on the HOV lanes provides two benefits. First, the force represents a deterrent to single-occupant drivers tempted to take advantage of the HOV lane's faster travel times. Violators face a stiff fine if convicted.

Additionally, a DART officer is often the first on the scene of a freeway accident, even if it's not on the HOV lane. DART officers help divert traffic, give first aid or do whatever else is necessary. More than once, the timely arrival of a DART officer has saved a motorist or passenger in trouble on a freeway.

As it has adjusted to new duties and responsibilities, the DART Transit Police Department has maintained a standard of quality which has been recognized by the American Public Transit Association. In 1997, APTA's Rail Safety Review Board wrote "The panel was extremely impressed with the caliber and dedication of the officers and management of the DART Transit Police."

As it grows to meet new challenges, DART's Transit Police Department is aware of the efforts that will be needed to respond.

"It's a constant challenge to maintain DART's high level of safety," noted Burke. "As our services grow, we expect our level of calls to increase. Maintaining the safety of our customers, and our officers, is always foremost on our minds."

"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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