Is Public Transportation Safe in Portland?

Posted on behalf of RizkLaw on Aug 12, 2017 in Legal News

Commuters have questioned the safety of Portland’s public transportation system for years, but never as vehemently as they have since the tragic MAX attack. Ever since an extremist white supremacist stabbed three brave men, slaying two and injuring a third, passengers are trying to overcome anxieties about the possibility of future acts of violence taking place aboard the trains. The widespread news coverage has shaken people across the country.

Soon after the tragedy occurred on March 26, TriMet substantially beefed up security presence, giving more hours to its police officers, supervisors, and private security guards. TriMet also hired extra private security guards and transit and community safety officers to establish a presence, particularly on rides to and from the Rose Quarter and Gateway transit centers.

Most passengers welcomed more security in the aftermath of the MAX attacks, but statistics show that crimes against passengers have been steadily declining since TriMet took a stand to curb crime in 2008, the year a senior citizen was attacked with a baseball bat.

TriMet Makes Security a Focus

When a teenage suspected gang member beat a 71-year-old from Sandy with a baseball bat at the Gresham Transit Center, passengers called out TriMet for failing to keep them safe. The attack occurred the day after the mayor of Gresham at the time commanded Gresham police to patrol MAX trains.

Mayor Shane Bemis communicated to TriMet’s general manager at the time a list of grievances he had received from Gresham residents boarding TriMet. Instances of public inebriation, gang violence, drug activity, assault, and fare skipping were rampant. In response, a conference was held to discuss safety in which a state representative attended.

The pressure on TriMet to make safety a priority established their now formal partnership with local law enforcement departments. Passengers became empowered to report any suspicious activity and look to TriMet employees for help.

Police Controversy

Not everyone believes that increased police presence will do much to deter crime, and many do not want to interact with armed police officers. Transit advocacy organizations are concerned that the police and fare inspectors pose a threat to minority and low-income riders. Just two days before the MAX tragedy, over a dozen activists expressed to TriMet’s Board of Directors that armed police should be banned from all trains and buses to prevent potentially violent confrontations. Even after the tragedy, certain groups continued to speak against using the event as an incentive to militarize public transportation.

Crime Trends Downward

In 2014, The Oregonian released intriguing information regarding TriMet’s 2013 crime statistics. In all, there were 648 crimes committed out of 97.2 million trips, a 25% reduction in crime from 2012. The most likely crime you will face on public transportation in Portland? Petty theft. Over 200 reports of petty theft, or theft of money or property worth less than $100, were reported in 2013. Instances of property crime have also risen.

In 2016, people rode TriMet 99 million times. 733 crimes against customers including 532 property crimes (most of them theft crimes), 188 incidents of sexual assault or intimidation, and 12 sex offenses, were reported. 62 crimes against TriMet employees, including 47 incidents of assault and intimidation and 11 thefts were reported, as well as 264 crimes at Park & Ride lots. Almost 50% of these crimes took place on the MAX system.

Should I Continue Riding TriMet and MAX?

No method of public transportation is fool-proof; however, more people experience tragic accidents driving their own cars to and from work and even in their own bathtubs. A person’s chances of drowning in his own bathtub and dying from a car crash (685,000 to one and 6,700 to one, respectively) are much higher than those of being an assault or robbery victim on TriMet (roughly one in a million).

What Should I do if Tensions Rise?

While there were no police present to protect the victims of the MAX stabbings, the city’s public transportation is getting safer every year. In the rare event that a similar confrontation does escalate, TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane urges passengers to notify their drivers by pressing the alarm buttons near the doors of the cars. From there, drivers can contact dispatchers to call 911 for help. Passengers should consider their safety before deciding to intervene.