High crime rate on Phoenix-area light rail trains renews calls for better security

Valley Metro reported 113 assaults between passengers and 37 assaults on their security guards between Phoenix, Mesa and Tempe.
Published: Sep. 19, 2023 at 5:36 PM MST|Updated: Sep. 19, 2023 at 6:59 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Valley Metro is looking into ways to make the light rail safer for riders. Rail safety was the focus of a meeting with city officials, where they talked about some of the statistics they saw regarding crime and violence.

From January through July 2023, Valley Metro reported 113 assaults between passengers and 37 assaults on their security guards between Phoenix, Mesa and Tempe. While looking to increase security, they’re also facing a staffing shortage.

The light rail experience is different for everybody. “As far as the quality of accountability, it makes it an un-enjoyable experience to be on the light rail,” rider Lorenzo Garcia said.

“It’s been a really good experience having it around,” another rider said. But for some, illegal activity on their ride has become too common. “I’ve seen a lot of drug use and fentanyl,” Garcia said.

You may remember an incident caught on camera in March where a man pulled out a knife on the light rail and allegedly stabbed another person on the light rail near 24th St and Jefferson. Now, some are questioning how safe the ride actually is, and if it’s worth it. “If they don’t have to take the light rail I would not recommend it,” Garcia said.

A light rail rider in Phoenix was attacked by a man with a hammer, and it was caught on camera.

Right now, there are 110 full-time security guard positions. As of last month, 32 of those were vacant. That’s 29% of their guards. Valley Metro uses a private security company, but Phoenix Police also has a public transit unit, responding to all calls for service for the light rail and bus routes. “I haven’t really noticed security,” rider Eugene Pape said.

We asked Garcia how often his ticket is checked. “One out of 10 times,” he said. We also asked how often he sees security. “Around 30% of the time,” he said.

Jeff Spellman was one of a few to speak during the city’s subcommittee meeting about this topic. “We’ve been bringing these issues to Valley Metro for a long time,” he said. He is with a volunteer group of neighborhood leaders. He says enforcing fair compliance is the first step. Valley Metro says they are working on it.

“We are continuing to increase coordination with law enforcement partners,” the CEO of Valley Metro said. “We are also looking right now internally potentially segmenting the Allied security team so we can focus jointly on fare inspection and enforcement of code of conduct.” Valley Metro says they have 12 new recruits starting security positions this month. They also want to get human services providers on board to help out those who may be homeless, riding the light rail.

In October of 2022, we reported Valley Metro’s data showing the number of incidents on the light rail continuing to increase. There were 1,335 incidents in 2020, 1,618 in 2021, and 2,482 in 2022, and at that point the year wasn’t over. The increases happened across all three cities, Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa, with the most dramatic rise in Phoenix. The data breaks down the numbers into three categories: crimes against persons, property crime, and code of conduct – which include trespassing, disorderly conduct, and disruptive passengers.

Valley Metro was not available for an interview Tuesday but sent this statement:

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