Remember this boondoggle?
There's a lot of talk these days about security on Metro, whether Metro police are visible enough, whether they do enough to contain the young thugs in parts of the system, etc., etc. So I decided to do a little experiment.
For a month, I kept an eye out for whether I saw any cops on my daily commute -- Orange Line from Vienna to Metro Center; then Red Line to Judiciary Square -- plus the occasional trip for lunch. Here's what I found:
7/22: Lunchtime Red Line: Cop boarded at Metro Center, immediately shut himself in vacant operator's cab and began texting. (I looked in the cab and saw his thumbs a-twitter when I got off two stops later. Head down, he didn't notice me.)
7/26: Morning inbound: Cop boarded at Vienna; rode in train operator's cab until Farragut West, frequently yucking it up with the operator. (Laughter audible in the first car.)
7/29: (No info -- took the day off)
8/16: Morning inbound: Cop walking along Red Line platform at Metro Center.
8/17: Two-fer -- morning inbound: cop walking along Orange Line platform at Metro Center; lunchtime Red Line: cop exiting platform at Metro Center.
Of course, my ride doesn't take me into all parts of the system, like parts of the Green Line, the eastern end of the Orange Line, or where the school hooligans run wild on the Red Line.
Nevertheless, what I observed doesn't exactly strike me as a robust presence.
I see my local Fairfax County police more often when I'm out and about at home. But whether you think five touches over a month is good or bad, what I found remarkable was that in each instance, the officers were doing nothing to engage with the system, the passengers, or their surroundings.
In two instances, they literally walled themselves off from contact. They could have chosen to move through cars, be visible, or talk with passengers, but didn't. They also could have been on the lookout for what seems to be a growing problem of eating/drinking on the trains. In the other three instances, the cops were just bustling from one place to another and looked like any other passenger. In all, there was plainly no effort to act like a cop on the beat.
Why does any of this matter? As Metro police have said repeatedly, the key to disruption is unpredictability. Confronted with the unusual, or encountering authorities where they don't expect them, would-be terrorists will retire for another day, police said.
But it's a little hard to shake up the routine if the cops aren't doing much to start with.