AUSTIN, Texas - Austin’s Capital Metro is moving forward with the creation of its own police force.
CapMetro currently spends about $2.9 million a year employing Austin police officers part-time. Financial figures for the new in-house department remain in the air.
The department will take a three-pronged approach to public safety employing sworn police officers, unarmed public safety ambassadors, and community intervention specialists.
"Specialists will act as liaisons and somewhat in a social worker capacity to intervene where individuals that may be experiencing homelessness or mental illness or some sort of other extraordinary challenge can be paired with an agency, an organization that can assist them," explained Gardner Tabon, Capital Metro Executive Vice President, and Chief Safety Officer.
This spring the transit authority conducted a public safety survey. 63 percent of frontline staff feel security needs improvement.
Brett Payne president of ATU Local 1091 the Austin CapMetro driver’s union says he feels assaults on drivers have escalated during the pandemic. "Physical -- definitely verbal. I mean chucking their drinks at the operators, spitting at the operators," he explained.
Payne says the union is "100 percent" behind the creation of the transit police force.
Tabon says the in-house force "will make much more efficient use of resources because they will be ours and we'll have direct control of training and staffing policies, which is very important to us. There will be short, shorter response times to staff and to our customers."