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Calif. transit district changes train security

(The following article by Paul Sisson was posted on the North County Times website on July 1.)

OCEANSIDE, Calif. -- Starting today, area trains and rails will be patrolled by fewer deputy sheriffs and more private security guards.

That's because the North County Transit District's budget, which takes effect today, includes a modified contract for services with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

Glen Calloway, contracts manager for the sheriff's department, said that the transit district's 2004-2005 contract includes only three deputies and a clerical support worker for $462,000. That number is down significantly from the fiscal year that ended Wednesday, when six deputies and a sergeant patrolled the rails at a cost of $855,000.

The sheriff's department proposed increasing this year's contract to $949,000; however, the transit district decided instead to cut the number of deputies on the beat.

David Papworth, director of security for the transit district, said he will hire more private security guards, who work for a subsidiary of Heritage Security Corp., to make sure there are still at least as many law enforcement personnel on the job. Heritage is the same company that provides security for the San Diego Trolley. Private security guards already patrol the transit district's six train stations from Oceanside south to Sorrento Valley in San Diego.

Until today, it was sheriff's deputies alone who patrolled northbound and southbound Coaster trains. Deputies were also responsible for patrolling most of the district's 62-mile rail corridor from Oceanside south to Santa Fe Station in San Diego and also the little-used, 20-mile, east-west freight line that runs between Oceanside and Escondido.

With fewer deputies available, Papworth said private security guards will take over some of those duties, riding trains and patrolling the rails.

"I want to stress that the sheriff's unit is not going away," Papworth said. "Contract security will just assist them."

He added that cutting the sheriff's contract in half frees up enough money to more than replace the three deputies and one sergeant who will no longer be on the beat.

"There will be one or two more contract officers on patrol than we currently have," Papworth said.

The private security guards who work for the transit district carry firearms and many have a background in law enforcement or other security work. Papworth said each guard has more than 300 hours of training, including a special firearms certification.

However, there are some abilities that private security guards do not have.

For example, deputies can detain and interview subjects in the field, checking for outstanding warrants using the county's criminal database. They can also write citations on the spot, an ability that private security guards do not have.

Papworth said that, if a private guard needed to write a citation while patrolling a remote section of the rail corridor, he or she would need to detain the subject using citizen's arrest powers and call by radio for a deputy's help.

Lt. Don Fowler oversees the current rail enforcement unit for the sheriff's department. Fowler said it will take his three remaining deputies longer to respond to emergencies along the rail corridor.

"We will be relying on (private security guards) to be our eyes and ears out there," Fowler said, adding that he will likely ask local law enforcement jurisdictions who are closest to respond rather than waiting for the rail enforcement unit's three remaining deputies.

Fowler said that by relying on local law enforcement response times to rail accidents and violations should be good enough.

"It is what it is. We're going to have to make the best of it and make it work," he said.

The recent train bombings in Madrid, Spain, on March 11 that killed 30 civilians proved to the world that transportation infrastructure, such as rail lines, is a target of opportunity for terrorism.

Papworth said he does not think that replacing deputy sheriffs with private security guards will hamper the district's ability to deter sabotage efforts or terrorist attacks.

Ann Kulchin, a member of the transit district's board of directors and also a councilwoman from Carlsbad, said last week that she was unaware of the contract changes. Transit district Executive Director Karen King did not return a request for comment.

"If they saw someone sabotage the rail, they could make the arrest," Papworth said. "They could do it right then and there."

Thursday, July 1, 2004

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