With crime on trains increasing, Amtrak should beef up its police force.
Instead, open positions remain unfilled and the number of police positions has dropped over the past year.
Amtrak is making a good move by adding more officers on board, but without sufficient personnel, that means more stations without a police presence and an inadequate presence on board for some routes.
Amtrak carries 32.5 million passengers a year – with those numbers, you’re going to get some bad apples. The police force covers a great deal of ground, with 500 stops along the train lines in 46 states and the District of Columbia. The rail lines cover 21,400 miles.
The president of Amtrak’s Fraternal Order of Police, William Gonzalez, believes current staffing levels are a threat to passengers and employees.
Staff levels of the Amtrak Police Department have dropped from 534 positions in 2019 to budgeting for 456 positions this year. That number includes police and civilian positions.
Congress has required that Amtrak maintain at least 431 positions. Amtrak hasn’t reached that number yet, with 32 open positions at the end of February. Those positions need to be filled.
Putting police on board works. The Silver Star line between New York and Miami had a crime spike last year, but those numbers dropped after placing an officer on board. Many of those incidents were alcohol-related. Amtrak does sell alcohol on trains, and it might be wise to limit sales to any one individual.
The trend shows growing numbers of assaults and thefts on trains. From 2015-19, disorderly conduct was the top offense on trains; next in line were thefts and assaults.
While overall crime was down in 2019, crime on trains was up in both 2018 and 2019, with 4,100 incidents on board in 2019. There were 5,700 total incidents reported in 2019, which includes incidents at stations.
Rail passengers must have safety and security. To accomplish that, Amtrak police need adequate staffing.