Thursday, March 21, 2013
Security guards who patrol San Diego’s train stations and trolleys say their concerns about safety are being ignored by their employer.
SAN DIEGO The security guards who patrol San Diego’s train stations and trolleys have told the inewsource and KPBS Investigations Desk that their employer, Universal Protection Service, has met their concerns about safety with hostility. One officer said he left the company as a direct result.
The Investigations Desk raised serious questions about public safety, officer safety and contract oversight of the county’s transit system in an investigation last month. In response, the Metropolitan Transit System promised scrutiny of its contract with Universal. Results are supposed to be reported to the MTS board of directors tomorrow.
Universal is the nation’s fifth-largest private security company, and works under a $23 million contract with MTS. Under the terms of the contract, Universal provides both armed and unarmed guards who patrol, protect and arrest throughout the agency’s 53 transit stations and 160 trolleys running between downtown San Diego and the Mexican border.
During a security briefing last Friday, a number of the armed private officers raised concerns about their late-night patrols, asking their sergeant whether working in pairs during peak high-risk hours would be possible.
The officers told inewsource that last week’s shooting at the Chula Vista Bayfront/E Street trolley station has left them unnerved during solitary nighttime patrols.
The officers, who asked not to be named because they feared they would be fired, told inewsource their concerns were met by an angry MTS manager as they were writing their recommendations on official paperwork.
The manager, Frank Amezcua, works as MTS’s head of field operations, along with Universal Capt. Dennis Jackson. Jackson told officers that if they don’t feel safe, he would find them someplace “where they do feel safe,” according to multiple officers present.
“It sounded like we were going to be reprimanded,” one officer said, “when we're expressing a genuine officer safety issue.”
The agency’s response to safety concerns lead Universal Officer Michael Medrano to resign this past Friday.
Medrano related this example:
He and two officers were aboard a south-bound trolley Thursday night when a supervisor’s phone call ordered them back to the station. Once there, the three were “interrogated” by multiple supervisors as to why the three officers were patrolling together instead of splitting up.
“I heard about all the shootings and everything going on down south,” Medrano told inewsource, “so I stepped on board with [the officers] for safety reasons.”
Medrano, who’s worked as a private security officer for Universal for the past three years, said the late-night shifts along the trolley lines -- especially the route running south toward Mexico -- are becoming more dangerous, and officers are often left to fend for themselves during patrols.
“They say we’re supposed to observe and report,” he said, “that’s what our job title says, but sometimes they want us to go hands on with violent people and it’s unsafe.”
“Look at law enforcement,” one officer told inewsource, “at night those guys are all paired up.”
Medrano was asked to turn in his badge and equipment and was escorted off-property. The following day, according to Medrano, a supervisor called to ask if he could cover a shift, “like nothing ever happened.”
“I told them they already have my stuff,” he said, “so if they’re going to be treating me unjustly like that, I don’t want to work for them, and that’s when I quit.”
Medrano joins more than twelve other officers who have told inewsource how unprepared and untrained they are for most emergency situations -- an issue at the center of last month’s investigation
inewsource tried to reach an MTS spokesman for comment on Wednesday, but was unsuccessful.
In response to the inewsource investigation in February, Metropolitan’s Board of Directors asked staff for an official security report to be given at the board’s public meeting on March 21.