Reader report: Crime on Metro

We've been hearing about increased crime on Metro, and various plans to tackle the problem. Last week, the D.C. Council discussed creating transit stop 'safety zones,' where penalties for crimes would be enhanced. To be sure, crime has been up on Metro this year, slightly. Warnings have been circulating the Internet about especially brazen thieves and muggers. The Metro Transit Police have been trying to keep a lid on crime with more undercover operations and so forth, but as always, it's important to be aware of your surroundings and such.

A reader, Nikhil, sent in an account of a recent robbery on the Red Line. I thought I would post this, it's a good example of a brazen rush-hour snatch, and highlights the difficulties of catching the suspects.
On Nov 10th, 2009 , I was returning from my office in DC by the WMATA metro train. For the past two years , I have been using the same route (Red Line) to commute to office.

When I reached Friendship Heights , I sent out a message to my wife that I reached the station, so she can come and pick me up at Twinbrook station. This was at 5:32 PM.

The train was crowded, as expected, as these were peak hours of commute. I was sitting close to the door with my haversack between my legs. I was playing a game on my iPhone. There were about three guys standing near the door.

At about 5:40 PM, the train pulled up at Medical Center station and the doors opened. Suddenly , in a swift action, one of the guys standing , snatched the haversack and ran out. Another guy grabbed the iPhone from my hand, which I tried to hold on to. He managed to break it free out of my hand and fled too. As an instant reaction, I ran after them out the train. On the platform, I yelled "Hey, that's my bag." That's all I remember.

I probably fell down after that. I had a concussion and don't remember much. My jaw is broken in two places. The doctors have wired it shut and I am on liquid diet

Somehow I am not as angry at the robbers, as I am at the system. How can the security let this just happen, in the peak hours of commute? Even if it did happen, how come the criminals are not found?
In a follow-up email, Nikhil wrote:
Today I went to the metro detectives. We saw the videos of what happened. Apparently when I ran after the robbers, one of them punched and pushed me to the side. Anyways the cameras are worthless at Medical Center. If such a robbery happens again, there is no way of finding the robbers.
Sadly, this happens all too often on Metro. The crowds during rush hour provide excellent opportunities for a getaway, and with current staffing there's no way to have a police presence at every station. Nikhil wonders how the system could be made safer, and this is a good question. As it stands now, people who commit robberies on Metro are almost guaranteed an easy getaway. Metro has been deploying undercover 'bait' units to try and catch these crimes in progress, but it's unlikely that will serve as much of a deterrent.

All I can say is if you are the victim of a robbery on Metro, be sure to report it, even if it is a hassle and even if it's unlikely the suspect will be caught. Accurate crime statistics are necessary to secure more funding for transit police. Sadly, there's no easy fix to stopping crime on the Metro, no easier a fix than stopping robberies on the street. Hopefully we'll see more cooperative efforts between transit police and MPD or surrounding jurisdictions with criminals utilizing Metro for crimes or for getaways.


  1. You wanna know what Metro cops are doing instead of preventing robberies? They're ticketing/arresting people for eating & drinking. I was on a train (Yellow line to Huntington) last Wednesday night and there were 4 off-duty Metro cops, I guess on their way home, joking loudly about ticketing a 14-year-old for spitting and how they wanted to "strip search " her. The answer is not more police. Better electronic surveillance would be nice, but riders have to do their part because there will NEVER be enough police to prevent crime. In fact, the police mostly secure crime scenes and investiagte - they rarely acutally catch a crime in progress and prevent it. Crime prevention is up to a potential victim.

    After 20 years in DC and Northern Virgina, I have never had a crime committed against me, except for a couple broken car windows. This is not luck. I lived at 13th and Mass back when it was crack-and-hooker central. I lived on East Capitol Street, east of Lincoln Park. I ALWAYS, without fail, pay attentionto my surroundings, even in the "best" neighborhoods. I never listen to music loud enough to drown everything out in public, and I always have my bag closed & zippered and on my lap, with my arms through the handles. If I see someone who looks "iffy", I am sure to note what they are wearing and look them right in the eye.

    There have been studies that asked convicted thieves to look at pictures and identify people whom they would be likely to rob. All the people targeted were either handicapped or ovlivious to their surroundings. The thieves could not say exactly why they chose those people, only that there was "something about them" that piqued their interest.

    I feel terrible for this guy being robbed and assaulted, but what's with having his bag on the floor near the door at rush hour and focusing on his iPhone? Instant target. I hate it that he had to learn his lesson about urban living the hard way.

  2. "Somehow I am not as angry at the robbers, as I am at the system."

    Yes, the robbers are such victims here... uhhh, what?!

  3. What were people doing (assuming there were loads of people around who witnessed this since it was rush hour) ? No one helped ? PATHETIC !

  4. Too bad you weren't there when that went down, Dave. You could have... live-blogged it or something.

  5. Amen Dagny. As far as other people helping out, you don't know if those robbers have a knife, gun, or any kind of weapon. I'm not going to risk my life for a person's bag or cell phone. I'll gladly provide any information I can to the police and assist the victim as much as I can, but no property is worth your life. If it were my bag and phone, I'd encourage people to NOT fight with the robbers to get them back for me.