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Phoenix Council Approves Increasing Security Along Light Rail

What started as a vote to increase security along the light rail line in Phoenix veered into a deeper debate about the train’s costs and benefits.

KJZZ Business Correspondent Christina Estes was at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

Light-rail security is something we’ve covered over the past several months, specifically the stretch along 19th Avenue from Camelback to Dunlap.

Some neighbors and business owners think light rail has hurt them. They’ve complained about transients or people they find sort of questionable hanging around train platforms, wandering into their neighborhoods, loitering outside their businesses. 

People who ride the trains have complained about being exposed to intimidating behavior and drug use. Those concerns led to a proposal to spend an extra $600,000 to increase security.

Only one council member voted against it: Jim Waring. His district covers a lot of northeast Phoenix, including the Paradise Valley Mall area. Light rail does not run through his district.

Waring is a fiscal conservative and has been consistent in his opposition to light rail. He doesn’t think spending billions on it is a smart use of tax dollars. He’s never been in the camp that claims if you build light rail, the whole city benefits. Now, that Phoenix is going to spend more on security, Waring is kind of saying, "‘told you so."

“Because the city has brought a problem to a neighborhood that didn’t necessarily have one before. Denied that it was going to be a problem, continued to deny it and now is saying oh well, now that there’s a problem we’re going to have to do some minimal steps to fix it," Waring said.  

Councilwoman Laura Pastor whose district includes 19th Ave and Camelback says that area has experienced many people moving in and out for at least 20 years.

“So now with the light rail there, there’s more people moving. So, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the light rail has then brought in all these problems and issues," she said. 

All the talk about security and whether people feel safe riding the train is a concern for council members, including Thelda Williams. She wants to see the line extended into her district, specifically to Metro Center at I-17 and Dunlap.

“I didn’t mean to make it sound like this whole route is dangerous because it is not. When you look at the number of incidents that have happened. They’re very few when you consider the number of people who ride it," Williams said. 

Several times we’ve heard the mayor and other council members credit light rail for attracting ASU downtown and big events like the Final Four, along with new housing and businesses. But, you also hear another side.

There is a feeling among some people who live in Phoenix that too much focus has been on light rail to the detriment of their streets. And, that takes us back to Councilman Waring in north Phoenix.

“Everywhere they build light rail they get brand new streets. Don’t get that in District 2. So do I have a legitimate grievance? Absolutely," he said.

Couldn’t someone argue Waring’s district might get funding for something another district does not?

Yes, and someone did bring that up — Councilwoman Kate Gallego who’s excited about light rail moving south of downtown into her district. She mentioned her support to help fund a project between ASU and Mayo Clinic in Councilman Waring’s district.

"I don’t know that a lot of my residents will be up there visiting the partnership that ASU is undergoing in that area but I think we will all benefit as a city if we look far and wide," Gallego said.

And Waring’s response: “We’re comparing it to Mayo hospital which is just, I don’t know. Which would you rather have? People come from all around the world to come to Mayo hospital. I don’t know that people come from all around the world to ride light rail.”  

After the "spirited" debate, the proposal to increase security along the light-rail line passed. What will the $600,000 bring us?

There’s some flexibility for the Police Department’s transit enforcement unit to figure out best ways to spend the money. It could all go to cover extra man hours for sworn officers to conduct targeted enforcement and crime suppression. Or some could go to police assistants or more cameras. Or a combination of things. We do know that they’ll be tracking what they do, tracking calls for service and arrests, and we expect to get details in a report next year.

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