Transit Systems Begin To Shift Away From Police Enforcement

Some transit agencies are launching ‘ambassador’ programs that use unarmed personnel to respond to safety concerns and reduce interactions with armed law enforcement.

Read Time: 2 minutes

July 20, 2022, 12:00 PM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Advocates have long called for a decrease in armed police presence on public transit, citing research showing that a police presence doesn’t necessarily contribute to a safer environment and discourages ridership. Now, transit agencies are starting to shift their approach when it comes to transit security, writes Henry Pan in Next City. 

“Last year, BART Police began to pilot its Transit Ambassadors program, using uniformed but unarmed personnel to respond to riders facing homelessness, mental health emergencies, drug overdoses and other crises.” For now, these ambassadors are still accompanied by police officers, but BART’s Chief Communications Officer Alicia Trost says “The idea is to really reimagine safety and to meet the needs of all types of riders, but especially marginalized communities who are often not listened to, or or often aren’t given resources based on their needs.”

According to Pan, “Deploying ambassadors seems to be working. During the pilot period between February and August of 2020, ambassadors called police to resolve less than 1% of the over 14,000 interactions they have with riders. Reports on sexual harassment, sexual assault and lewd behavior sent by riders through their BART Watch app are also decreasing, from 2% in 2019 to less than 1% so far this year.”

Similarly, “The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has an ambassador program that relies on contractors, with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to follow next month. Metro Transit’s Police Department in the Twin Cities created a Homeless Action Team in 2018 that connected over 400 formerly unhoused people who ride the system for shelter to public housing managed by its parent agency, the Metropolitan Council.”

For now, BART plans to stick with police officers alongside the new ambassadors, citing the potential need for an armed response in the event of a major incident.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022 in Next City

Chicago Commute

The Right to Mobility

As we consider how to decarbonize transportation, preserving mobility, especially for lower- and middle-income people, must be a priority.

January 26, 2023 - Angie Schmitt

Aerial view of dense single-family homes in neighborhood still under construction

How Virginia Counties Use Zoning to Stifle Development

Some state legislators are proposing action at the state level as counties block development using zoning and development requirements even as housing prices rise sharply in the region.

January 23, 2023 - The Virginia Mercury

New York City Coronavirus

The Once-in-a-Generation Opportunity to Remake Downtown

Urban cores around the country were transforming into live, work, and play destinations before the pandemic. The pandemic was a setback for this transformation, but it could also be a rare opportunity. It’s up to city leadership to seize it.

January 23, 2023 - The Washington Post

Rendering of red seven-story student housing building with students walking in open grassy plaza in front of building

L.A. Times Editorial Board Calls for CEQA Reform

The Board argues that the environmental law, while important, has too often been ‘weaponized’ by NIMBY groups to delay or halt housing development.

7 hours ago - Los Angeles Times

Seattle buses in line at a depot with Seattle skyline in background

Seattle Brings Free Transit to Public Housing

Linking transit programs to housing can lower administrative costs and streamline the process for riders.

January 31 - Route Fifty

Broad street in downtown Columbus, Ohio with two pedestrians in crosswalk

Columbus Could Lower Downtown Speed Limits

The city council will vote on a proposal to lower speed limits to 25 miles per hour to improve safety and make downtown more walkable and welcoming to pedestrians.

January 31 - The Columbus Dispatch