I just got off the phone with The Wife's folks. It turns out a local hot story about a beating in our Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel
has just gone national. As part of their traditional call to catch up, they wanted some explanation for what they saw on the news. While explaining things, I realized you readers out there might want a bit of perspective from someone within the organization that runs the tunnel.
It's no surprise, really, that this story went national and viral. There's video! Of a beating! And Guv'ment employees LETTING IT HAPPEN!!! Hell, read how the AP piece run by MSNBC chose to open
SEATTLE - Three unarmed security guards were following orders last month when they stood by without intervening as a 15-year-old girl was badly beaten in a downtown Seattle bus tunnel.
Really, all they had to add was "just" and those employees would have been branded Nazis standing trial at Nuremburg.
This whole episode is making me ragey. Why? Because it was so very avoidable
. First, let's ask why were those employees are in the tunnel in the first place. From the AP article, we learn: "The guards' duties include helping customers and reporting suspicious objects, disruptive behavior and equipment problems." That last, "equipment problems," needs to be further emphasized.
Happily, I posted an entry outlining the equipment problems these guards were later hired to mitigate
. Here's the situation. The tunnel was modified a few years ago to allow for both light rail and buses. Sadly, the modifications for the light rail meant compromises had to be made for the buses:
Most of the mods involved carving out the roadbed and re-leveling it. Trains ride higher than buses. Were the bed to remain constant, train riders would have to step down from and step up to the rail cars. Given that trips and falls constitute the greatest danger in transit agency liability, this change of elevation was deemed unacceptable. However, again, what was good for trains doesn't work for the bus. This change now puts the new hybrid low-floor floor level below the curb. . . .
What happens when people on the platform get too close to the curb when buses approach? Ah, now the fun begins. Buses are equipped with mirrors mounted just ahead of the front door. With no platform -- that is, standing on a surface equal to the bus -- the very top of my head can touch the base of that mirror. Were a bus moving when I was standing there, I might get a very minor bonk on the noggin. I stand at six feet.
That means that on a typical curb, folks between 6' and 5' 9" would be in danger of conking the mirror. It's something we drivers keep in mind when approaching the curb, I can assure you.
In the new tunnel, the conking goes to anyone 5' 6" or taller. Furthermore, remember, the bus needs to be closer to the curb than on the downtown surface for reasons I mentioned above. Combining this curb nearness with the fact that far more people stand over 5' 6" than over 6', that statistical likelihood of conking Shoots Way Up. Bonking a head, even brushing it a little, constitutes an accident.
Furthermore, in most stations where trains run passengers waiting to board traditionally crowd the edge of the platform. This makes the bus mirror situation critical.
In the days and weeks after the station opened, changes were made to mitigate accidents this poor design situation caused. A yellow strip a couple of feet from the edge was installed as a no-stand zone. To emphasize the importance of not standing there, very loud and very clear announcements flood the stations at all times warning against standing within that zone until buses have come to a complete stop. And additional personnel were trained to stand watch in the tunnel and personally remind people not to stand to close to the edge. At first, Metro used its own supervisors to stand this watch duty. The contractors shown in the video "not intervening" were trained and hired later.
That's right, people. The guards in the DSTT are there not to keep the peace, not to protect passengers from sudden attack, but primarily
to protect waiting passengers against injury from a design situation that should never have been allowed to happen
And that's what the news has been talking about not at all.
Look, it's all about the bottom line. Would we all love for police to be stationed in the tunnel stations? Probably. The sad fact, though, is that the stations are (like transit stations the world over) strangely safe places. Very little crime happens there relative to the crime on the street above the stations. Why should trained law enforcement personnel waste their precious time and the taxpayers' resources ($90 an hour for an off-duty police officer, verses $17 an hour for a non-intervening contractor are numbers I've heard batted about) to stand by and protect people against violent crime and other incidents that statistically happen at far greater frequency elsewhere? As brutal as this attack was, it was also very, very anomalous.
Here, though, I get even madder. Look what Metro's head, Kevin Desmond, is saying in the AP article:
Olympic Security is working up a proposed contract revision that could include additional training and new guidelines on how and when guards should intervene, Desmond said.
"They are highly motivated to make changes very quickly," Desmond said. "I am motivating them, and they have a reputation to keep."
Other options include hiring armed guards.
Unarmed guards could put themselves and others at risk if they intervene in certain situations. But this incident was largely a fight between two teenage girls, and there does not appear to be any indication that the larger group would have become involved if the guards broke it up, Desmond said.
"If I was there on the platform I don't know that I would have stood there," he said. "It's their job to be down there. The people at Olympic Security had the same human response: 'Why didn't we step in to protect the girl on the ground?'" (Emphasis mine.)
Desmond, you mendacious cretin. You weren't there.
You weren't being paid a pittance to watch the tunnels primarily to guard heads against flying mirrors that you were probably responsible for okaying. And you weren't as a result given very specific instructions not to intervene in other situations. So why, if only to deflect attention away from your office, are you insinuating that these "guards" did anything wrong at all?
Shame on you. You are doing nothing less than throwing those contract employees under the bus.Update, February 24, 2010:
On that last sentence, I called it!
Under the bus the guards have officially been thrown:
King County Metro Transit is planning within the next few days to replace
Olympic Security, the firm whose guards called police but didn't intervene
while a girl was kicked in the head at Westlake Station Jan. 28. . . .
Though crime is generally low inside the Seattle transit tunnel, video of last month's
assault angered people here and around the country.
He said after the briefing that "in a matter of days" he'll announce a plan,
involving another security firm in the tunnel.
For nearly five years, Olympic's unarmed security guards have been under
work rules to avoid intervening physically. Now they are getting a few hours
of additional training, while the county has assigned armed King County
sheriff's deputies to tunnel stations. (Emphasis mine.)
I emphasized that sentence to reinforce the injustice these poor guys are suffering. Don't do what you're told, and you'll be punished. Do what you're told, and you'll be crucified.