After last month's beating of a 15-year-old girl in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, Metro Transit said it will change its contract with Olympic Security to compel guards to intervene rather than simply "observe and report" as someone is pummeled.
Within a few days, private security guards working in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel will be expected to do more than simply watch and call police as someone is pummeled.
Kevin Desmond, general manager for King County Metro Transit, said Wednesday he is discussing contract changes with Olympic Security, whose current orders are to only “observe and report” illegal activity.
Talk of rule changes follows a Jan. 28 beating in which a 15-year-old girl punched another girl on the Westlake Station tunnel platform, then kicked her six times in the head as three guards looked on and called for help. Moments earlier, the victim had tried to avoid the attack by standing near the guards, surveillance video shows.
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She told the guards “these kids were trying to jump me” and thought the guards would protect her, according to a King County sheriff’s detective report.
The footage has inspired public disgust since it was first aired by KING-TV news Tuesday night.
Desmond believes the new performance demands will require more training. “Some of their employees may decide, ‘This job is not for me; I may be putting myself at risk,’ and it will be time for them to move,” he said.
Because guards are unarmed, there is only so much they can be asked to do, and the public wouldn’t want them getting into unnecessary physical confrontations, Desmond said.
Olympic Security is in the final year of a five-year contract, after which Metro will take new proposals for security service. Olympic Security guards working in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel are paid between $11.10 and $14.80 per hour. Metro pays about $1.3 million a year for Olympic to continually man the five tunnel stations and to patrol other sites. Mark Vinson, president of Tukwila-based Olympic, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The current contract language doesn’t expressly forbid Olympic guards from physically stopping an attack, but officials say Olympic’s personnel are trained not to intervene.
The three were “significantly outnumbered” by a group of teens and young adults in the Jan. 28 incident, according to a King County sheriff’s statement. Video footage shows one attacker and several people in the background, some of whom stood lookout or took the victim’s belongings during the fight. City police arrived first, followed by county transit police coming from another tunnel station, within five minutes.
About 75 or 80 people work as Olympic guards. They have varying skills and demeanor, said Desmond. Guards often raise their voices and yell at people to stop and did so during the attack, he said.
Degree of force
The way Metro uses Olympic guards is similar to Sound Transit’s contract with Securitas, whose unarmed guards are paid $16 to $18 an hour to conduct fare enforcement and to patrol transit stations. Sound Transit’s policies, however, anticipate they’ll sometimes intervene:
“When faced with a clear and immediate threat of bodily harm, the Security Officer must always first consider retreating with any other people present to a secure position. When necessary to protect self and others from a clear and immediate threat of bodily harm, a Security Officer must use only the degree of force necessary to repel an attack or threat of an attack.”
Securitas guards have broken up fights, including at transit centers in Federal Way and Auburn, said Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray.
The Service Employees International Union Local 6 issued a statement Wednesday framing the attack as a reason SEIU should represent the Olympic guards. It already represents Securitas.
Security guards this week have mentioned their frustration at standing back, said SEIU researcher Emily Sokolski.
“They don’t have the tools to intervene, at this point,” Sokolski said. “They don’t have self-defense training in how to intervene in a physical altercation. They would not only be in danger, but they would be in danger of losing their jobs.”
In December, the union and some guards held a news conference to ask for safety improvements — first-aid supplies, better emergency training and a faster police response. The subject of physical confrontations didn’t arise then, though guards have asked to carry pepper spray, Sokolski said.
“Open cookie jar”
At the Westlake Station on Wednesday afternoon, some passengers talked about the attack, as three Olympic Security guards were on duty nearby.
“I saw the video and it was really horrible,” said Annette Sanders, of Renton, waiting for the 101 bus to take her to work as an in-home caregiver. “I was shocked that it happened down here.” But she said she feels safe and the incident will not change her riding habits.
Waiting for a northbound bus, Bev Hering, of Seattle, said a policy prohibiting guards from intervening is stupid. “What are they here for?” she asked. “If these kids know that the guards aren’t going to get involved, that’s like an open cookie jar.”
Shortly after, four sheriff’s deputies entered the busy station. Chris Pelczar is a member of a team that patrols the central business district and occasionally checks at Westlake. He said it’s no more dangerous in the tunnel than anywhere else in Seattle.
“Things happen,” Pelczar said. “Down here, and up there, things happen.”
Review of other cities
Relatively speaking, the transit tunnel is a safe area, officials say. Police there make about 10 arrests per month, mostly for minor incidents, said Desmond.
Sgt. John Urquhart, spokesman for the King County Sheriff’s Office, said security staffing seems appropriate for Seattle’s level of crime, but the department is going to review what other cities do. “We’ve got 9 million passenger boardings a month [systemwide]. It’s a huge, huge system and yet, there’s very little serious crime that occurs,” he said.
Besides the private guards, Metro Transit has 68 armed police who patrol not only the tunnel, but buses and other transit stops. Sound Transit has a force of 28 armed officers, composed of sheriff’s deputies. Metro was supposed to get six more deputies last year, until the recession slashed the agency’s sales-tax income.
By using extensive private security, Metro can put more eyes and ears at bus stops than is possible by spending money solely on costlier deputies, said Desmond.
Portland’s transit system also includes a mix of police and unarmed security.
The Vancouver, B.C., area employs 170 armed transit police for its SkyTrain lines, and they spend some time on water taxis, bus rapid transit and large stations. The constables often make warrant arrests aboard trains, while enforcing fares.
The transit agency also hires its own unarmed guards, who carry pepper spray and handcuffs.
After several crimes on Portland rail lines — including the beating of a 71-year-old man with a baseball bat at a suburban station — officials doubled the transit police from 28 officers to 58 during 2008-09, and crimes decreased, according to an Oregonian newspaper report.
Seattle Times staff reporter Brian Rosenthal contributed to this report. Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org