New K-9 team joins TriMet as part of increased security force

New K-9 team joins TriMet as part of increased security force »Play Video
Snoopy is trained to sniff out explosives and will be patrolling TriMet buses and trains with Officer Chad Stoner. Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman, Producer/Reporter.

PORTLAND, Ore. - TriMet is beefing up its security by adding a new K-9 team to the transit police force, installing more security cameras on buses and platforms and continuing their focus on fare enforcement.

The changes were announced Tuesday at a news conference at the Gateway Transit Center in Northeast Portland.

The one thing that riders might notice right off the bat is the new K-9 team that will be working with TriMet's Transit Police Division.

At the news conference, folks got a chance to meet one member of the team - 'Snoopy.' The 2-year-old English Labrador retriever is trained to sniff out explosives and will be making the rounds with Officer Chad Stoner, his handler.

"A majority of what we do during the day is what we call random sweeps of buses and trains," Officer Stoner said. "Once we're done with that, we set up training for him (Snoopy) so he stays proficient on his tasks."

So what qualities does Snoopy have that makes him good at this line of work?

"Mostly his demeanor," Officer Stoner said. "He's driven, which you want in any kind of detection work. And he doesn't get upset or frightened around buses."

And why a Labrador? Stoner said it's because people tend not to be afraid of that breed of dog, so Snoopy's presence on a bus or MAX train will hopefully not make folks feel uneasy.

There will be a total of four K-9 explosives teams working full-time to ensure our transit system is safe from threats. And they'll also be there to deter crime. TriMet received a grant from the Transportation Security Administration to add the K-9 team.

TriMet will also be adding more security cameras. By the end of the year, they plan to have cameras on all their buses and they will be adding some more to platforms as well. All of the MAX trains already have security cameras.

The idea is to make sure folks know that if they commit a crime on a bus, MAX train or platform, a camera will see what they are doing and they will be caught.

The surveillance photo on the right, for example, shows a young woman who was arrested early last year after dog feces was smeared on a bus operator's seat.

Despite what folks might think, TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch said the crime rate throughout the transit system is low. "We have less than three reported crimes a day," she said.

What you might not know is that TriMet often focuses on even the smallest infractions and there is a reason for that.

"We focus on very small, inappropriate behaviors because we know that those may lead to bigger things," said Harry Saporta, TriMet's Safety and Security Executive. "And so we want to stop it before it gets larger."

TriMet will also continue their focus on fare enforcement. They have hired six additional fare inspectors to help make sure everyone is paying for their ride. Anyone without a valid fare faces a $175 citation. You can even be excluded from riding TriMet altogether, even on the first offense.

TriMet began putting an emphasis on fare enforcement last year and they say their numbers show that it is helping with their bottom line.

"This shift to enforcement has shown some real results," said Shelly Lomax, TriMet's Operations Executive Director. "With more people buying fares, it's bringing in more revenue and it increases the safety and security presence on the system. We are now seeing citations dropping as riders have realized it's better to follow the rules than pay a fine."

These are just a few of the sweeping changes that TriMet has been undertaking this year.

A few weeks ago, the first few buses of a new fleet hit the road. A total of 55 new buses will be rolled out in the coming months.

TriMet has also partnered with a local software startup to launch mobile ticket applications for both the iPhone and Android-based cell phones. A beta is expected to be launched in January.

And of course they made a huge overhaul to the fare system. The zones they had used for years were done away with, along with the Free Rail Zone (formerly known as Fareless Square). Riders now purchase 'go anywhere' fares - one ticket to travel wherever they like.

KATU Reporter Melanie Wingo contributed to this report.