SacRT Has Dramatically Increased Safety and Security on Its System

Written by Sacramento Regional Transit District 
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Here is an inside look at how we achieved it.

The Sacramento Regional Transit District’s (SacRT) bus and light rail system is among the safest in the country. In fact, it’s much safer than some people who are unfamiliar with the transit system might think.

Why? Because we take major steps to make it that way.

Over seven years ago, our Board of Directors and new General Manager/CEO Henry Li decided to lay the groundwork for us to play a bigger mobility role in a growing region by creating a more secure system, and then show the public that we are indeed safe, convenient and reliable.

Since then, we have diligently upgraded our safety program, adding dozens of new security personnel, including sworn police officers, as well as new technologies, including 1,500 video cameras monitored in real time.

Together, it has created an integrated, cutting-edge security network designed to stop nuisance behavior before it can even start.

“Over seven years ago, we said, ‘Riders come first,” SacRT General Manager/CEO Henry Li said. “It’s our mantra. And it starts with safety, security, convenience and cleanliness on buses, at transit centers and stations, and on trains. We’ve worked hard to achieve that.”

“We are now one of the safest transit systems in the nation,” SacRT Board Chair and Sacramento County Supervisor Patrick Kennedy said. “Our task is to spread the word.”

To be clear, illegal activity can occur on occasion anywhere in private and public settings, and our transit system is very much a public service accessible by all who have valid fare media.

However, our innovative security program makes us a highly monitored and uniquely safe public space, where it is difficult to behave poorly and get away with it.

Let us show you what we mean. Here is a review of what we’ve accomplished in recent years:

A Firm but Friendly Face on Your SacRT Train

Our safety program starts with people like Brandon Gibson. Each day, he and other uniformed personnel fan out on light rail trains across the system.

They wear silver badges, but they are not sworn police officers. They are Transit Ambassadors. It’s a service we created a half-dozen years ago to give our system a friendly but firm public face.

When Gibson boards a train, he calls out to riders to have their valid fare ready to show. He then works his way down the aisle, visiting each rider in turn.

“How are you doing today, ma’am?” he asks a woman. “Can I see your fare?” She returns his smile and shows her fare payment on her smartphone. “Thanks, have a good day,” he says.

The woman, a frequent rider, says she is pleased Gibson and other Ambassadors are aboard. “I ride every day and I see the Ambassadors almost every day,” she said. “It makes me feel safe.”

We launched the Transit Ambassador program with the goal of having a customer-focused representative on almost every train during main transit hours to cut back on the number of people riding without paying.

“We’re here to enforce, but we’re customer service as well,” said Gibson, a self-described people person. “I explain the apps we have. I tell them about events happening downtown, which stations to use. I’ll even tell them about good places to eat.”

The results have been nothing less than transformative. Fare evasion has dropped significantly to less than one percent in recent years, down from 21 percent seven years ago.

Along the way, we also discovered – when passengers pay to ride, they behave.

SacRT has Layers of Safety

Transit Ambassadors are just the visible front end of an integrate security program that we’ve continually bolstered in recent years.

Our security team includes uniformed guards most hours onboard trains and at station platforms. Those uniformed guards and Transit Ambassadors are backed by nearly two dozen sworn law enforcement officers on assignment at SacRT from the Sacramento Police Department and the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. They respond when guards, Ambassadors, drivers or riders call.

Our security department doesn’t stop there. It now includes two full-time police detectives who work with a designated county District Attorney’s office prosecutor to pursue criminal cases in court, when necessary.

We also employ an unusual safety worker named Blue, a two-year-old chocolate brown Labrador who has a trained nose for explosives. It’s part of our partnership with the Department of Homeland Security and its Transportation Security Administration.

Blue patrols our system full time with Sacramento Police Officer Ryan Chapman, who says, “He’s a good dog and he’s good at his job.”

That security department is overseen by retired Sacramento Police Department Capt. Lisa Hinz, who now serves as vice president in charge of safety and security, working in cooperation with the police and sheriff’s offices, and with our General Manager/CEO Henry Li, who launched the agency’s safe and clean program when he arrived almost eight years ago.

“The best way to do security is by building layers, and by continually improving on the system,” Hinz said. “We react quickly. If you have a hot spot, you address it immediately. You stop the problem before it develops.”

One example is at the Watt/I-80 Station. The station is scheduled for a major redesign to improve security, safety and accessibility. In the meantime, Hinz recently stationed guards and elevator monitors at the station to assist customers and monitor the station for nuisance behavior.

SacRT police teams also conduct “fare blitzes” at stations, where teams of officers check people for valid fare on random days and times to ensure there is no trespassing in the Paid Fare Zones. Under a recent state law that we sponsored, transit stations are designated as rider-fare-holder only areas.

 Cameras, Video Monitors, and ‘The Voice of God’

The backbone of our safety and security network is the 1,500 live-feed cameras deployed throughout our system. Every train car, train station and bus are now equipped with real-time cameras.

Those cameras are monitored 24/7 by SacRT staff in a Security Operations Center (SOC) located in the Sacramento Police Department’s safety center.

“This isn’t your grandfather’s transit agency,” SacRT Board Chair Kennedy said. “Our Transit Ambassadors are the face of SacRT. But technology is a core part of our mission to provide safe, reliable, clean and convenient service.”

The security crews monitoring live cameras at the SOC can speak directly to people at our stations via public address (PA) systems. The media sometimes refers to it as “The Voice of God,” and it has become an important tool for deterring bad behavior at light rail stations.

Security crews make on average 500 PA loudspeaker announcements per month, often advising someone not to smoke or drink in the station or asking them to pick up their litter.

Videos show that the person being spoken to, typically, immediately stops unauthorized activity.

“The message we are sending is we are watching, and if you are doing something you shouldn’t be doing, there are going to be consequences,” said Robert Kerr, the manager of our SOC.

It sends a message of assurance as well to all riders at the light rail station, he said. “They can know that somebody is here monitoring, behind the scenes.”

National Recognition, but No Complacency

In recognition of our security efforts in recent years, the Federal Transportation Administration awarded SacRT with its 2022 and 2019 Gold Standard Award for System Security, and the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) recognized us with the 2023, 2021 and 2020 national rail safety awards.

We also received two other national awards: the APTA 2021 Outstanding Public Transportation System of the Year and General Manager/CEO Henry Li received APTA’s 2019 Outstanding Public Transportation Manager Award, in good part because of our steps creating a safe, clean and convenient system.

We are pleased, but not complacent and will continue to grow and adapt.

“Our safety and security infrastructure is super strong,” says Hinz, SacRT’s security VP. “But we have an open system (no turnstiles or gates). We are here to serve all members of our community and should always be watchful and improving.”

Riders themselves are also part of our security system, Police Services Director Vince Beatty said. We offer riders the Alert SacRT app that allows them to contact us in real time when they see something problematic on the system.

“The Alert SacRT app can be used discreetly and anonymously,” Beatty said. “Riders can also alert the operator of a bus or the train when the train is stopped at a station.”

These combined industry best practices have paid off in a big way. Our crime rates are extremely low at approximately .0007% per trip (only 7.5 incidents for every one million trips taken).

Bottom Line: Safe, Clean, Convenient and Rider Friendly

We believe the real story of SacRT – and the real daily experience on our buses and trains – is one of shared community spirit.

We open our doors daily to diverse groups of people. For instance, thousands of students ride SacRT fare-free every day. Every day, commuters ride in ease, often chatting with familiar faces on board.

Meanwhile, elderly, disabled and other non-drivers use our system to get to stores and medical appointments. And, during festivals, sports events or concerts, thousands of riders choose our buses and trains to add an extra touch of freedom and fun to their outing while avoiding traffic and parking hassles.

We are proud to be a mobility provider to all community members. We have been at your service now for over a half century. And we are committed to continuing to make that service as clean, secure, convenient, and user-friendly as possible in the years ahead.

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