Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Transparency alert: WMATA resumes its monthly crime blotter

March 21, 2012 - 08:40 AM
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(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

At 1:45 p.m. on Feb. 4, a Metro rider was cited for urinating in public at the Addison Road Metro station. In the whole month of February, WMATA issued 15 citations or arrest warrants for urinating in public, actually. A Feb. 18 arrest at Wheaton Metro was particularly rowdy as Transit Police hit the urinator with charges of public drunkenness and resisting arrest around 1 a.m. At Franconia-Springfield Metro at 12:34 a.m. on Feb. 1, the Transit Police reported an account of an alleged "indecent exposure, proposal, or act." A rider received a warning at Deanwood on the evening of Feb. 26 for failing to pay the WMATA fare. On Tuesday night, Feb. 28, a rider at Gallery Place was arrested for alleged bike theft. What to make of all these terrible allegations?

The Metro Transit Police monthly blotter is back!

WMATA halted its regular blotter updates last spring in a confusing move that chief spokesperson Dan Stessel and MTPD Chief Michael Taborn once told me concerned how labor intensive updating the blotter was. Metro officials wanted to communicate strategically, they said, and emphasized the desire to communicate crime, when necessary, through press releases, via tweets and alerts, and issue their broader, packaged analyses on Metro crime every quarter. Was a blotter really worth their time? Not last year, considering it remained dormant since March 31. More than half a year passed without this rich and disturbing detail of rider behavior.

But in 2012, the blotter is back, quietly and unannounced. All the crime for February is featured in the following PDF of 34 pages on the Metro website.

"The police department has resumed posting the blotter," confirmed WMATA chief spokesperson Dan Stessel.

He referred to the "different approach" in posting one giant PDF of the month's crimes rather than uploading each individual infraction onto the website with laborious HTML typing, as the agency once did. To upload a single PDF helps "streamline the process," according to Stessel. The way they're now coordinating the blotter removes the need to redact any individuals' names or waste time entering each incident. Stessel told me that the Transit Police had resumed the monthly blotter in the last month or so — he believes since around the new year.

Although bigger analyses of Metro crime and moments of public outreach are worthwhile, I see virtue in such a roundup of regular rider violations. How better to understand the complexity of wrongdoing, from fare evasions to assaults to intoxicated outrage, than a simple listing of Metro stations, dates, and alleged offenses? Perhaps the overall transit agency is corrupt, negligent, and wasteful, but hey, at least now we know the legion allegations lodged against the riding public. Turns out Metro riders aren't always that ethical either. The resumption of the Metro Transit Police blotter is a small victory for transparency.

Scheduling Note: TBD On Foot will be going on vacation from today through Monday, March 27. I'll be back with more transportation coverage then!

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