AUSTIN (KXAN) — Capital Metro is looking into forming its own police department to handle transit safety.
The transportation authority is hiring a consultant this fall to study how it might implement its own police force.
After that, CapMetro planners plan to seek legislative approval in 2021 to create a CapMetro Police Department. That would allow for sworn transit officers to have authority anywhere along CapMetro routes.
The goal would be to hire the first sworn officer, a police chief, as early as 2022. That person would then establish policies and procedures and begin hiring other sworn officers in a phased approach, over a number of years.
CapMetro says the force would likely be made up of several sworn officers, along with non-sworn security officers. The transportation authority would also contract with some off-duty Austin police officers, as it does currently.
CapMetro’s Director of Public Safety and Emergency Management Darryl Jamail says transit policing is different than city policing, so having full-time trained transit officers could be more efficient than solely relying upon paying Austin officers to handle security in their off-time.
“We just really have reached a point where we need officers that are here 40 hours a week that really have the institutional knowledge and in-depth understanding of our of our system,” Jamail said.
Currently, Capital Metro relies on calling 911 for any big emergencies on its routes, and it pays off-duty Austin Police officers to provide additional security where needed. However, Jamail says those officers may only pick up one or two shifts with CapMetro a month, sometimes making it hard to maintain the specific expertise they need.
He says on average, CapMetro has about 350 incidents a month that require asking for help. That includes 911 calls that may require on-duty officers, EMS or firefighters, as well as incidents that can be handled by the off-duty officers working for the agency.
Jamail says with its own force, heavy emphasis would be placed on technology, with non-sworn employees monitoring activity via surveillance footage from CapMetro’s Operations Control Center.
Capital Metro is taking lessons from transit agencies that have developed their own police forces in other big cities, like Denver. Its Regional Transportation Department has 13 sworn officers and two K9s. The agency still supplements the small force with some off-duty city police officers, along with non-sworn security officers.
Capital Metro would do the bulk of the patrolling from its Operations Control Center. Monitoring the surveillance video routed there would allow the force to stay small.
“That’s what Denver’s done a really good job of, leveraging that technology on the back end to minimize number of personnel that you have to have out in the field,” Jamail said.
Jamail says part of the consultant’s job this fall will be to determine how the force would be funded. He says some of the budget currently being used to employ off-duty police officers would go into the new force.