Despite a recent series of highly publicized crimes on and along the TriMet system, agency officials say riding their buses and trains is relatively safe. As proof, they point to the 2016 TriMet Crime Report, which shows there were 1,247 reported crimes in nearly 99 million rides.
"While crime remains low on the TriMet system, one incident can have a deep impact on our agency, our city and our riders, so we remain resolute in our actions to protect the transit system," said Harry Saporta, the transit agency's executive director of safety and security.
But it's difficult to directly compare crime statistics in 2016 to any previous year.
Because of a change in the reporting system required by the FBI, TriMet's Transit Police collected their data differently last year than ever before. Instead of reporting individual incidents, the agencies tracked each crime within an individual incident. A single robbery, for example, could involve crimes of assault, theft and 'felon in possession of a firearm.'
As a result, the 1,247 individual crimes reported in 2016 is much higher than the 407 individual incidents reported in 2015 and TriMet doesn't know whether actual incidents increased, decreased or remained flat.
But Saporta guesses the incident numbers remained flat, based on conversations with Transit Police officers, including one who compiles reports based on reviewing videos of incidents on TriMet buses, trains and stations.
Direct comparisons can be made going forward, Saporta said, and TriMet will release a new report before the end of the year comparing offenses for the same months.
The new collection method is called the National Incident-Based Reporting System. Law enforcement agencies in the TriMet region adopted it this year, and all agencies in the country must use it by 2021. Saporta believes it more accurately reflects the nature of the crime on the system by reporting each offense within an incident. The data does not include noncriminal fare-evasion charges.
According to the report, in 2016, there were 287 crimes against people, 721 crimes against property, and 239 crimes against society, which include crimes such as "felon possessing a firearm," where no one is hurt. That breaks down to 58 percent property crimes, 23 percent people crimes and 19 percent society crimes.
Most of the crimes — 588 — happened on the rail system. The bus lines accounted for 343 crimes, while 316 happened at stations or on other TriMet property.
The largest number of crimes — 346 — were larcenies, including property thefts. There were 138 assaults, 50 incidents of intimidation, and 12 sex offenses. There also were 106 motor vehicles stolen from TriMet properties.
The 62 crimes committed against TriMet employees included 27 assaults and 20 incidents of intimidation.
Public concern over crime on the TriMet system is high because of a series of recent, well-publicized confrontations, as well as accusations that the Transit Police target low-income and minority riders, with potentially dire consequences.
The most shocking incident was the May 26 confrontation between alleged white supremacist Jeremy Christian and three Good Samaritans who tried to stop Christian's allegedly angry, hateful ranting on a MAX train. Christian faces murder, hate crime and other charges for killing two of the men and seriously wounding the third. A memorial still stands at the Hollywood MAX station to honor Ricky Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, the two who died, and Micah Fletcher, the survivor.
Just over two weeks later, on June 15, Steven Klopp allegedly yelled slurs about the nationality of a PSU student from India and her parents while they were riding a MAX train downtown. Although no one was injured, Klopp allegedly spat at the student's mother during the incident. He was arrested July 20 and charged with a hate crime.
Before those two incidents, Transit Police shot and killed a man who reportedly was threatening people in the area of a transit center near Southeast 92nd Avenue and Flavel Street. Police say Terrell Johnson threatened two officers with a knife as they were chasing him away from the station. Activists repeatedly have cited the death at meetings of the TriMet Board of Directors to argue against having armed police patrol the transit system.
Even before that, the district attorneys in TriMet's service district announced they were reducing their criminal enforcement of some transit infractions because they disproportionately impact minorities. Prosecutors for Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties cited a December 2016 Portland State University study commissioned by TriMet that found African-American riders are cited for fare evasion at a higher rate than other riders. At TriMet's request, the 2017 Oregon Legislature gave the agency more options for pursuing fare evaders administratively.
To learn more about the new reporting system, go to http://tinyurl.com/ydcr6l79.