CapMetro police department begins to take shape, to include more than just officers

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Capital Metro officials are taking a three-prong approach to its new public safety department. The transit agency has been working on creating its own police force to handle transit safety concerns.

This week, they announced the department would not only consist of police officers but also community intervention specialists and public safety ambassadors.

The intervention specialists would act more like social workers and be called out on a case-by-case basis while ambassadors would act as the face of public safety, alongside the officers.

Ambassadors would interact with riders and assist with any issues from helping people buy bus tickets to identifying infrastructure issues such as trip hazards. They would also make up the largest group of the new department. At present, CapMetro is working to hire 15 ambassadors with the potential to hire an additional 10 down the line. They have already hired an ambassador supervisor and two intervention specialists.

When it comes to situations that require a police officer, currently, CapMetro depends on off-duty Austin Police officers to handle those calls. On average, those off-duty officers pick up one or two shifts with the transit agency a month. Roughly, each month, CapMetro officials said they see an average of 350 calls that require additional assistance. At this point, they do not know how many police officers they would hire.

“We really are taking a measured methodical approach to this, because we know in today’s climate what the word ‘police’ can mean to some and to others, and so we’re taking very careful steps,” Gardner Tabon, CapMetro’s executive vice president and chief safety officer, said.

On Monday, CapMetro is asking the board to approve a resolution that directs staff to include in the Capital Metro FY 2022 Operating Budget sufficient funding to continue working on the future of the new police force over the next year. Then, in September, the board will consider around $590,000 for hiring and other operational costs for transit police.

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