The tragedy that ensued on May 26th aboard a MAX train has sparked a raging desire for safety aboard public transportation and an ensuing debate that seeks to determine the best course of action. While many are in support of an increase in police presence, many others are skeptical that additional armed officers would do little to improve safety. There are valid concerns and heated passions on both sides of the debate. At the heart of the situation is the sincere regard for the safety of passengers, many who rely on public transportation each and every day.

TriMet Stabbings

It is a story that has become a national sensation. Three brave men aboard a MAX train out of the Hollywood station in Northeast Portland defended two girls being verbally harassed and intimidated by a rogue white supremacist spouting anti-Muslim racial slurs and hate speech. The man, now in the custody of the state, slashed the three men’s throats. Just one survived.

The attacker had a long list of prior run-ins with the law and was a convicted felon. He had convictions for felony robbery, kidnapping, and weapons. He had spent eight years in state prison serving time in four different institutions due to disciplinary issues. His mother claimed that she had long suspected he may have mental health issues and he was living on the streets at the time of the attacks.

The attacks immediately left Portland users of mass public transportation shaken. TriMet officials responded by beefing up security and police presence. They continue to explore different avenues to keep riders safe by adding even more security and police officers permanently, yet there is a strong force of opposition to this proposal.

To Police or Not to Police

The default response to any terror attack is to increase security. The idea is that personnel dedicated to responding to incidents will be skilled in utilizing de-escalation techniques while keeping the public safe.

TriMet held a board meeting in June to discuss ideas moving forward. Present was a witness of the MAX stabbings, who believed that the lives of the slain men could have been saved had there been some kind of authoritative presence aboard the train. She firmly believes that it is not the duty of those riding the train to defuse situations that become heated.

Attention was redirected to a protester leading a chant that went “No police on TriMet!” Protester Mimi German stated, “I believe there is terrorism in this city that is perpetrated by the police force against communities of color. Against the houseless community. Against people of low income.”

The hostility between police officers and disenfranchised communities, people of color, the mentally ill and the homeless, is a valid concern amidst the killing of a young black man at the hands of Portland Police at the Flavel Transit Center, and several other instances of police brutality currently making headlines around the country. Passengers wish to feel safe aboard public transportation, but they also do not want to be profiled or face unwanted or unnecessary interactions with police.

Passenger Ana Del Rocio, a first-generation Peruvian American, rides MAX trains daily and frequently with her two young children. She recollects several incidents with transit police in the course of three years since she has lived in Portland. One day in 2015, she remembers when she was eight months pregnant and could not pull up her electronic fare on her cellphone. The transit officer on duty kicked her off the train.

Many share similar experiences and sentiments that armed police officers do not automatically provide a safe environment. A suggestion made by another passenger at the meeting was to hire and train more TriMet employees to monitor the trains and buses and teach them to develop valuable de-escalation skills to defuse confrontations.

Studies show that many police officers throughout the country are not much more skilled in firearms than those who have received no formal training. One such study by the Force Science Institute indicated that an average police recruit who  has completed typical academy firearms training is just 13% better at shooting than novices at distances in which most police shootings occur.

It is understandable that in order to feel more secure on our public transportation we need security we can trust. Learn more about issues impacting safety, well-being, and justice at rizklaw.com. To schedule a confidential appointment to discuss a claim with an attorney, call (503) 245-5677 or email info@rizklaw.com.