San Diego Metro Transit System’s First Private Security Officers Begin Patrols

San Diego Metro Transit System’s First Private Security Officers Begin Patrols
People wait to board an Amtrak train heading to Los Angeles, in San Diego, Calif., on April 3, 2018. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
City News Service

SAN DIEGO—The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System announced on Jan. 25 that it has begun onboarding private security officers with Inter-Con Security to provide security services on trolleys, buses, and on the transit system’s properties.

The first officers began on New Year’s Day and by the end of the month, the transit system expects to have 190 Inter-Con officers ready to join its 80 code compliance inspectors.

“The safety of our riders and employees is a top priority at [the Metropolitan Transit System],” said Monica Montgomery Steppe, chairwoman of the transit system’s Public Security Committee and San Diego City Council President Pro Tem. “We are confident Inter-Con officers will be a great addition to our security teams.

“We are excited to have these officers on board to advance many of the reforms we’ve implemented over the past few years and look forward to working with them to serve the public,” she added.

In July, the transit system’s board of directors approved a $66 million contract with Inter-Con. The contract is for three base years with an option to extend an additional two years.

“We want to provide a safe and secure experience for all [Metropolitan Transit System] riders and employees,” said Nathan Fletcher, the transit system’s board chairman, and chairman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. “This new team can help us ensure we meet our obligation to protect the public, our [Metropolitan Transit System] team members, and anyone who engages with [the transit system] in a safe and professional manner.”

In January 2021, the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System named Al Stiehler—who most recently served as chief of field operations for New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the nation’s largest—as director of transit security and passenger safety.

Since July 2020, in the wake of national protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the changes in the transit system’s security policies and procedures include the following:
  • Many of the principles in the “8 Can’t Wait” campaign—which calls for more restrictive use of force by police officers nationwide—has been adopted as a guideline for the transit system’s use-of-force policy.
  • Carotid restraints and choke holds are banned, including the prohibition of applying knee pressure on the neck, throat, or head.
  • A “duty to intervene” has been adopted, which requires the transit system’s security officers to intervene when witnessing excessive force used by another employee.
  • A fare citation diversion pilot program helps riders caught without a fare avoid court fees and criminal citation.
  • The transit system’s security policies and procedures will be reviewed by a third-party peer review, which includes a community-based steering committee to assist with recommendations.
“We have been working diligently to adopt principles, guidelines, and improve our officers’ training to a more sensible approach to security and safety enforcement,” Stiehler said. “Inter-Con presented an impressive work plan that aligns with our mission and is backed by the use of technology to track training and certifications.”

The Metropolitan Transit System service area covers 570 square miles, 62 stations, and 53 miles of double-tracked railway. Officers are responsible for conducting fare inspections, acting as system ambassadors, supporting bus and rail operations and other employees in need, and helping with lost and found items, among other tasks.

Last July, the board of the transit system also extended its Fare Evasion Diversion Program to Aug. 31. This pilot program reduces fines, offers a community service option in lieu of payment, and a new appeal window for fare violators.

The transit system is extending the pilot to get a better understanding about success factors, a board statement read. The COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult to fully analyze the program thus far, but an extension is intended to allow additional time to evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot program and identify if any changes are necessary.