Dear PoP – Metro Train Safety

Photo by PoPville flickr user AWard Tour

“Dear PoP,

I keep reading accounts of people being attacked on sparsely populated Metro trains (late at night, on weekends, etc) – it seems like occurrences are becoming more and more frequent as reported on Police Department listservs.

Metro keeps reporting budget crunches, and I’m sure criminals and petty thieves know MetroTrains are easy venues for their activities, since Metro Police can’t be in every car, or even on every train.

Whenever I’m on Metro late at night, I always choose to enter a more populated car, but can we take our protection to the next level by collectively occupying the first or last car of each train – say after 8pm?

You know what they say – safety in numbers! How could we organize such a publicity campaign, or has something like this been attempted in the past?”

That’s why the Guardian Angels ride the metro. From the MPD listserv:

Friday August 28, 2010 aapproximately 8:20 pm Guardian Angels was patrolling
the green line from Annacostia to Gallery Place. When the doors opened up at
the Navy Yard stop, three males approximately 20 years old, were engaging in
a loud, heated argument. The three males began to fight. Guardian Angels
rushed in to stop the fight. The males were very aggressive. The Guardian
Angels had to detain the three males and call Metro Police. When the train
arrived at L’Enfant Plaza Metro Police took one male into custody for simple
assault and disorderly.

Honestly I ride the metro (including the Green line) quite frequently late at night and have never felt uncomfortable. There have been some highly publicized fights (featured on this blog) but I’d say they are still rather rare. I’m not saying I’m a tough guy, maybe I’ve just got lucky, but it’s always been fairly uneventful (perhaps some yelling and music but no fighting).

Anyway, what do you guys think – does riding the metro late at night make you feel uncomfortable?

Would you like to see a campaign to fill the first and last cars for safety or something like that? If so how would you recommend that campaign be launched? In cooperation with WMATA?

55 Comment

  • It’s almost enough to want to make you send out a blast e-mail warning out-of-towners to avoid the yellow/green lines during their stay in DC.

  • touche douche

  • What the hell are the Guardian Angels? Does that not warrant more of an explanation?

  • Man, what? The rough and tough kids in this city are so immune to organized approaches to peaceful coexistence, and may possibly be agressive towards those who flee and hide, you’ve got to be kidding. Remember the german tourist shot outside Shaw? Remember all the other innocents shot by our rogue children. It’s just a disgrace that continues to plague this city every week. Thankfully we have the guardian angels to at least try to intervene once in a while. I can only imagine what it takes to even spend part of my day trying such an endeavor with these pistol packing thugs.

  • A campaign like that sends out the message that metro has a big crime problem and that passengers expect crime to happen in the middle cars.

    As we know there has been some crime on metro, but the incidents are not so frequent that I would consider metro unsafe. We are very lucky to have such a safe clean transit system as compared to other major subway systems in the US.

  • if you sit in the first car you are in the car with the operator. of course, you’re also ‘first on the scene’ if the train runs into another one (if you know what I mean).

  • I think maybe your correspondent should grow a pair, and sit where he pleases, come what may.

    • Maybe you wouldn’t think that if you had been assaulted on the metro.

    • yeah, that’s pretty lame advice. some people aren’t ninjas, mark.

      • The account the writer describes was a fight between two large groups of interested kids. In this case the writer would have been a bystander, and nobody in the actual altercation would have cared even a little about whether they were in a crowded car, or not. And anyway most of the violence occurred on a platform. PoP’s listserv post was also about a fight that occurred on a platform.

        The writer wants people to band together in order to protect themselves from crimes of opportunity — muggings — but nobody’s actually documenting an increase in these sort of assaults.

        You seem to think I want the writer to put himself in danger and then get into a fight or something; but actually all I’m saying is that the odds of actually being mugged on a train by the kind of person who is deterred by a crowd, are low.

        It may be relatively less dangerous to band together in one car, but it is not objectively dangerous to sit in any car; and it is not our purpose in life to reduce every risk, however slight, to zero. So instead of making that his goal, the writer should do what I said in the first place.

  • If there is a fight on a train, move to the next car via the emergency door and call the operator/911. Don’t get involved unless you are trained to do so. It’s too easy to get sued or indicted for things these days.

  • I believe metro to be very safe for the most part. If the media did a report every day on metro incidents, one would see that the problem incidents are few and far between.

  • Um…if we all go to the last car, then there are 5 other empty cars where shenanigans may occur. Also, Eric in Ledroit has a point — the malfunction that caused the Metro crash happens all the time. It’s not a good idea to encourage lots to sit in the first or last cars.

    • The point was that none of us would be part of those shenanigans because we would all be in the same car. (I think the OP was referring more to a city-wide standard of everyone riding in the same car, kind of a “safety in numbers”, not just for the readers of this blog to all ride in the same car.)

  • I’m not sure I’ve ever been on a train empty enough for: a. this to matter, but b. everybody to fit in one car.

    Also, you know damned well that once WMATA caught wind of this, it’d be 2-car trains from here on out.

  • Paging Bernard Goetz…Bernard Goetz to the third car…Bernard Goetz.

    Maybe Scalia isn’t as bad as I usually think… (see Heller v. DC).

    • You know it’s just a matter of time before someone goes all Bernie Goetz on a few of these kids. There’s only so much that people can take before they reach a breaking point and do something crazy and unexpected.

    • Yeah, because Bernie Goetz really has all of his marbles….lets hope for more sociopathic deranged vigilantes.

      • +1
        The last thing I want is an angry/frustrated commuter with a gun on my train.

      • Oh I agree…that was an attempt at snark.

        But yes…one of these times these kids are going to pick the wrong guy and they’re going to get thrown in front of a train or worse…

        • Exactly. They make the mistake of believing that every white kid is meek and defenseless.

          • no they don’t. that’s ignorant.
            i’m white, not meek, nor defenseless but i see lanky white 20something kids everyday that scream FUCK WITH ME. sometimes so loud that even i want to mess with them. its not a small percentage, but its not all of us.

            it is so disturbing to see people so obviously out of place, so oblivious to their surroundings, on the phone, texting, ear phones in, holding their wallet, just stupid ass behavior.

          • Um, yes they do. I’m guessing from your description of yourself that you don’t know too many of them.

  • Carrying around a hammer or a Louisville Slugger when you’re out late at night can act as a pretty good deterrent. The lowlife thugs are much more likely to prey on someone who looks like an easy target, and the last time I checked, it’s not illegal to carry carpenter’s tools or baseball bats out in public.

  • I think the guardian angel thing is dangerous. Now we have self important vigilante gangs riding the system looking for a fight. You all love them now, but I guarantee, one will eventually get caught carrying a gun, or knifing someone and then there will be public outcry on how we could let organized viliglantes run wild on metro.

    This is why we have organized and trained police forces, on whom we give certain rights and abilities.

    I don’t remember giving some random overweight kid with a god complex permission to “protect” metro.

    That aside, the biggest problem is the mob like sheep mentality of people today. Perfect example was a ride I took on the redline last year. 10pm at night, ~30 people in a car, 12-15 of them guys, 2 or 3 of them looking like stacked gym-rats and none of them, NONE of them stand up to 3 teen kids with a combined weight of 350 lbs harassing an elderly lady, stealing her cane and then provoking other people with it.

    All anyone did was crank up their ipods and look down at their feet. It was embarrasing to watch. It quickly turned hilarious when I grabbed one by the throat, bashed his head off the pole and he started crying…his two friends running off.

    These kids know no one will say anything to them, thats where they get their brashness. I promise you they fold like a house of cards if anyone even looks like they will confront them.

    I suggest the adults in this town stop acting like beaten puppies and assert themselves when appropriate.

    • so you being a vigilante is superior to the guardian angels because of something you guarantee will happen in the unforeseen future?

      i’m not following your logic here.

    • You’re talking out of both sides of your mouth, joker:
      “This is why we have organized and trained police forces, on whom we give certain rights and abilities.
      I don’t remember giving some random overweight kid with a god complex permission to “protect” metro.”

      I don’t remember anybody giving YOU permission to protect old ladies on the metro. I’m glad (and I’m sure she is too) that you stood up for her, but quit bad mouthing people who do the VERY SAME thing just because they’re organized in a group with a name. At least they have a code of conduct and are not just reactionary.

      The Guardian Angels typically will restrain people and call the police, rather than out-and-out assault people, which is what you did (I might have done the same thing, BTW).

      Also, they’ve been around for decades in all the major metropolitan areas of the US with little or no incident that I’ve ever heard of (cue the guy who will furiously search the Tubes for some example to contrary, just to prove me wrong).

    • You have no clue what you are talking about. The Guardian Angels work closely with law enforcement and have always been a great benefit since Curtis Sliwa founded the group in NYC in the ’70s. They are not vigilantes, they are an anti-crime, anti-violence group, and their work in NYC helped make the subways safer and take them back from the criminals. They are there to help make the city safer, not to dole out violence and punishment of their own.

  • Of course I realize that anyone can be the victim of violent crime, but PoP, perhaps you have never felt unsafe simply because you are a man. (Which is not to say that all women have felt unsafe, either.)

    I know the times I have felt unsafe on the metro have been when I have been sexually harassed by male passengers (and yes, I know men can be sexually harassed, as well, but it’s much more common for women to be victims of street harassment). It’s difficult because I want to stand up to these men and tell them to just leave me alone, but when it’s clear that someone could easily physically overpower me, I don’t always feel comfortable doing so. This is actually one of the reasons I sit in the outside seat (instead of next to the window) whenever possibly; I don’t want to feel trapped/like I can’t get away. I honestly think harassment (and even some sexual assault) on the metro is a much bigger problem than most people think. The problem is that metro police can’t always do something about it (because once it can be reported the passenger is long gone).

    I guess I consider myself lucky that nothing really horrible has ever happened to me, but if you read some of the stories on Hollaback DC! I think it becomes clearer that this is a real problem.

  • Where’s batman when you need him?

  • I’ve ridden metro at all times of the day and night. I used to live at one of the most dangerous stations, Deanwood and Minnesota Ave on the eastern branch of the orange line, while I have met some characters on that line I’ve never felt unsafe. I’m a big guy, 5’11 and 336 pounds with linebacker build. So forreal no one is going try anything with me unless they have a weapon, but even then I got something for them! I do have some advice for people who ride metro though, the front car is the safest. One poster said everyone should crowd into the back car which was a horrible idea, that just leaves yall as sitting ducks. While there maybe a transit police officer in the cab of the back car, thats not always guaranteed and one could easily look into the back of the train before one boards to see that. I think people are itching a bit much though, because I’ve ridden Chicago’s El, Philly’s subway, MARTA (Atlanta’s metro), and NYC’s subway and all of them are worse when it comes to safety. But I’m guessing people in those cities have better street smarts.

  • I really like the idea of an unofficial campaign to sit in the front car on metro. I always did it, growing up in NYC. I’ve never had a problem on either metros.

    Furthermore, I’ve never heard of the Guardian Angels until now. I’m so glad they exist, and I’ll spread the word.

  • Growing up in NYC and never heard of them? Their leader Curtis Sliwa was alledgedly roughed up and shot by John Gotti’s crew.

  • anonymouse_dianne

    I work at Census, right off the Suitland green line. We have been warned not to ride the train too late. A co-worker was seriously mugged (required a trip to the ER) in March when he stayed late and had to ride from Suitland to the Waterfront. I have noticed especially since Union Station movie theatres were closed the throngs of kids who get on and then off at Gallery Place. I choose to avoid it when I can. Last night I was going from Dupont to Georgia Ave and chose to ride the red line up to Ft Totten and transfer back. I’m not afraid, I kind of agree with Joker that the kids are all bark and no bite, but why take a chance? I managed to live in NYC West Village for years without any problems just by staying alert and aware of my surroundings.

  • Could the OP please give more examples of reports of violent crime aboard metro trains (other than the big fight at Gallery Place/L’Enfant which everyone has heard about)? I seem to recall a few incidents at the Anacostia station within the past couple of years, but I haven’t heard of this rash of recent incidents.

  • I’ve ridden the metro late at night and never felt uncomfortable. I’ve felt more uncomfortable walking home from the metro station than riding the train.
    I too would like to see documentation of this supposed “rash” of recent incidents. It seems to me that one big incident happens – the fight at the Gallery Place metro stop – and all of a sudden the DC metro system is Dodge City. That’s not to say that people should not pay attention to their surroundings. It’s just that they should maintain some perspective.

  • I think a “safety in numbers” campaign would be a great idea. If it makes people feel safe then it helps.

    I think WMATA would definitely be open to doing some sort of campaign.

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