Metro's logo in Union Station.
A Metro committee has given initial approval to a new policy to ban people who commit weapons or sex crimes on the transit system.
The proposal calls for a 14-day suspension from the system for a first offense, 30 days for a second offense, and a year for a third offense within a rolling 12-month period. If offenders are found back on the system, they would be arrested for trespassing.
Metro Transit Police Chief Ron Pavlik told the board that the number of crimes like indecent exposure doubled during the pandemic. Those arrested for these charges are often released on the same day after they get a court day.
"Just this past weekend, an individual committed an indecent act at the Union Station Metro station," Pavlik said. "He was arrested early in the morning and several hours later, he was released and at the Anacostia station that afternoon doing the same. So we know there are repeat offenders. There are individuals that ... the officers know by name."
Pavlik assertd that those that flash or masturbate in front of people on the train may be emboldened by the fact there are fewer people on the trains — meaning fewer witnesses and less opportunity for people to intervene.
"We hope this crime will naturally decrease on its own [as more riders return]," Pavlik said. "But we believe this is just a step in the right direction just to assure riders."
Metro won't suspend SmarTrip cards, largely because not everyone registers them. Repeat offenders would likely either have to be recognized by police or caught for committing another crime.
The suspension policy is modeled after other transit agencies like MARTA in Atlanta.
Board member Devin Rouse said the ban was a starting point to help reduce weapons and sex crimes. "Everybody deserves a system that's clean and safe," he said.
Matt Letourneau, a board member from Virginia, said he thinks the suspensions may not go far enough.
"To me, it seems frankly, a little bit lax ... a little lenient," he said. "But this is kind of our first foray into this and so I'm comfortable moving forward with the understanding that if this does prove to be effective, we could potentially look at different penalties down the road."
Board Chair Paul Smedberg said in a statement the board hopes to make Metro as clean and safe as possible for returning customers.
"Keeping our customers and employees safe also means being smart about how we handle the most serious offenses we see on our trains, buses, and in our stations," Smedberg said. "This proposal would give us an additional tool to prevent sex and weapons-related crimes on Metro."
The full board will vote on the proposal at its next meeting.
Groups like the ACLU say the temporary bans are troubling as they place punishment ahead of a conviction. While several private businesses ban individuals for misconduct without a verdict, the the group says it's different because of the public nature of transit.
"The proposal unduly impacts those who rely on public transit also raises due process concerns in stripping people of access to a critical public service — a service they may need to attend court appearances or see a parole officer — based on an arrest, not a conviction, and without an opportunity to be heard by a neutral decisionmaker," says Nassim Moshiree, policy director for ACLU of the District of Columbia.
Lani Shotlow-Rincon, who sits on the board of Stop Street Harassment, says she doesn't see how a ban like this would be effective without stringent monitoring.
"You don't need an ID to get a pass to ride the Metro," she said. "So how are they going to match up those particular people? How are they going to monitor for those people? I think people can circumvent it."
But she also had reservations about letting someone's fare pass expire while they're suspended, saying they should be reimbursed instead.
The group has previously worked with WMATA on various public service announcement campaigns. Shotlow-Rincon, who is based in Los Angeles where the transit system has a similar ban, says she hasn't seen evidence that these policies work.
"There isn't like a full picture. The data isn't there, the access isn't there, to see if these things actually do work," she said. "I don't know how long the ban in LA has been on the books, but it's still an environment where people feel unsafe. So I'm not convinced that a ban would just magically alleviate that."
Rachel Kurzius contributed to this report.
This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.