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Phoenix Residents Tired Of 'Drug Addicts' On Light Rail

Complaints from residents and business owners are leading Phoenix police and Valley Metro to increase security along the light-rail line. Thursday, the Valley Metro Board will be asked to approve 16 more security officer positions to be spread along the 26-mile line. But the 19th Avenue corridor is getting the most attention.

Council members Debra Stark and Daniel Valenzuela organized a recent community meeting to address light-rail safety and security along 19th Avenue.

“I’m tired of riding on filthy seats with drug addicts shooting heroin next to me, selling drugs next to me, fighting, yelling, screaming, chasing imaginary spiders,” said Mark Jacobsen. “I’m tired of it.”

A woman who lives near 19th Avenue said she loves riding the train to downtown Phoenix and Mill Avenue in Tempe but “there are people using it as a bathroom and people using it for drugs.”

Bob Bean, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433, the union that represents Valley light-rail drivers, said there are people who ride the train all day and use it as a washroom, forcing the drivers to clear out a car and rope it off.

“I get calls at 1 in the morning from the operators because they’re afraid to walk the platforms from one end to the other,” Bean said. He expressed concern about the platforms being wide open and allowing people to loiter.

“That’s really important to us, hearing what you all need,” Maria Hyatt, transit director for the city of Phoenix, told the group.  “Every year we add more funding to address security needs.”

Late last year, the Police Department conducted a crime-suppression pilot program along the 19th Avenue corridor. Between September and December, police reported 149 arrests. In February, the department launched the 19th Avenue Corridor Extra Duty Program. 

“We have four officers a day, four or five days a week, depending on need for about six hours a day,” Lt. Seth Jahnke said. “Right now, they are on the platforms, they are on the trains, they are all up and down the 19th Avenue corridor, basically doing a high visibility type program.”

The Police Department’s Transit Enforcement Unit is responsible for security and law enforcement on more than 20 miles of light rail and 20 platforms in Phoenix. The unit is made up of one lieutenant, six sergeants, 19 sworn officers, 23 police assistants and 24 municipal guards. 

Valley Metro has a contract with Allied Universal, for non-sworn security officers along the entire line.

During the community meeting, Valley Metro Safety and Security Director Adrian Ruiz said they had 57 security and fare inspectors, but that doesn’t mean they are all filled.

“At peak, we have 18,” she said. “And, that’s for 26 miles.”

If the board approves, Ruiz plans to add 16 people on second shift because they typically see more problems from 3 p.m. into the early-morning hours. She said new signs will also be posted detailing a passenger bill of rights, code of conduct and demarcations on the platforms that will be “very bold and in your face."

“When you board the platform, you’re going to see the area,” Ruiz said. “If I pass this, I am subject to contact based on my conduct. It’s not very clear right now but we’re going to demarc that.”

Stark told residents they can make their voices heard at upcoming public hearings involving the city’s budget.

“We’re looking at hiring some civilians that are going to take over some of the responsibilities of our police officers so they can be out on the streets and, really being there for the tough calls,” Stark said. “And, secondly, our human services department is talking about contracting with some social service agencies, so they’re out on the streets 24/7 trying to address the needs of the homeless.”

Residents and business owners can share their input with the city’s Public Transit Department by calling 602.495.2002 or emailing [email protected]. Valley Metro’s customer service line is 602.253.5000.

As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.