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Originally published February 17, 2010 at 7:30 PM | Page modified February 17, 2010 at 7:37 PM

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Transit security gets boost after beating in tunnel

After the videotaped beating of a 15-year-old girl in front of unarmed Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel security guards last month, officials...

Seattle Times transportation reporter

After the videotaped beating of a 15-year-old girl in front of unarmed Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel security guards last month, officials are looking at beefing up security beyond the tunnel stations.

Seattle police officers are adding patrols at five tunnel entrances, according to a joint announcement Wednesday by Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine. Meanwhile, Maj. Dave Jutilla of the King County Transit Police told elected officials the security guards' response was unacceptable and that they will be expected to intervene to protect transit riders in the future.

Citizens expect security guards to protect them, he said, instead of to merely "observe and report" incidents, Jutilla said.

Jutilla and Metro's two top managers spoke at the King County Courthouse to a committee of elected officials from Seattle, suburbs and King County who meet regularly on transit issues.

New training in "verbal de-escalation" and basic self-defense started this week for the unarmed Olympic Security employees working in the tunnel, Jutilla said.

Since Olympic won the Metro security contract five years ago, guards have been trained to "observe and report" and told not to get physically involved in confrontations. Metro pays more than $1 million a year to Olympic to serve as eyes and ears in the tunnel and other transit stations.

This week, the unarmed guards will receive three hours in verbal de-escalation training, Jutilla said. Upcoming self-defense training has yet to be designed fully, but two county deputies are helping oversee the program, he said.

Seattle City Councilmembers Tom Rasmussen and Sally Bagshaw also asked about safety on Third Avenue, which is dominated by bus traffic several hours a day, and where street crime is common at some intersections.

Jutilla answered that the county and city are looking at ways to work together on policing Third Avenue.

The changes are a reaction to a Jan. 28 incident in which a 15-year-old girl was repeatedly kicked in the head in the transit tunnel at the Westlake Station, as three unarmed security guards looked on. The beating was caught on videotape and made national news after KING-TV first obtained and aired the story.

King County reacted last week by shifting its transit police to put at least one armed deputy in each of the five tunnel stations.

There were only two assault arrests in the tunnel in 2009, Metro reported. Some 50,000 bus riders a day use the tunnel.

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"We believe the tunnel is a safe place, and will continue to be a safe place," said Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond. But he said the Jan. 28 attack was disturbing.

"The lack of intervention, immediately before and during the fight, was completely unacceptable," he said. "We do recognize we must restore public confidence in their safety in the downtown transit tunnel."

Just before 3 p.m. Wednesday, there were two city police officers, one county deputy and three unarmed guards at the Pioneer Square Station loading platform. Westlake Station's platform had one deputy and five unarmed guards. Seattle police also are adding a new transit detail, but a spokeswoman on Wednesday declined to discuss staffing levels.

King County has 68 armed transit police. Besides tunnel duty, they work streets and plazas near downtown stations and patrol outlying transit centers, as well as conducting undercover work on buses. The county would have added six positions last year, but it eliminated those planned spots because of a budget crisis brought on by slumping sales-tax income.

Sound Transit employs 28 armed police officers, who are most responsible for light-rail and commuter trains.

With the two agencies combined, there are 96 armed officers monitoring transit, plus private unarmed security guards. In British Columbia, Metro Vancouver employs 140 transit police, plus security guards with nonlethal weapons.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com

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