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CapMetro to deploy private security guards at busy bus stops

The Capital Metro North Lamar Transit Center on Dec. 6, 2021. The sky is overcast. A few people are milling about. A single CapMetro bus is pulled up at a stop. A police vehicle can be seen in the parking lot in the distance.
Gabriel C. Pérez
KUT News
The Capital Metro North Lamar Transit Center is one of a handful of busy transit hubs where unarmed security guards are expected to be patrolling within six weeks.

For the first time, Capital Metro is planning to station unarmed security guards at major transit hubs, including North Lamar Transit Center, South Congress Transit Center, Republic Square Park and the Tech Ridge Park and Ride. The transit agency says the decision was driven by a flood of complaints about safety.

"These will be eyes in the field for us," said Gardner Tabon, a CapMetro vice president who oversees public safety. "Whether it's drug deals or some other behaviors that are totally unacceptable on our property that, quite frankly, we wouldn't want our customers exposed to."

"We are trying to enhance and grow our ridership, and we feel like this may be just another tool in the toolbox to get that to happen," Tabon told a committee of CapMetro board members this week.

CapMetro plans to contract security guards through a private firm, which hasn't been chosen yet. The transit agency said it couldn't provide a cost estimate. But the security guards are expected to be on the job within six weeks.

The guards would report incidents to the transit agency's new public safety dispatch center. A dispatcher could request help from a police department or send a CapMetro social worker, whose job is to connect customers with mental health resources or other help.

Capital Metro is already building its own police force to replace the off-duty Austin police officers who currently patrol the system. The first 12 CapMetro officers aren't expected to start work until 2025. Unlike APD officers, they'll enforce CapMetro rules like requiring shoes or prohibiting panhandling on the bus. CapMetro police officers will be armed.

CapMetro executive vice president Gardner Tabon and the agency's transit police administrator and soon-to-be police chief Eric Robins sit for a portrait inside a conference room. Both are in suits facing the camera. Behind them are window blinds through which you can make out some of Austin's downtown skyscrapers.
Michael Minasi
KUT News
CapMetro Executive Vice President Gardner Tabon (left) is overseeing creation of a transit police department that will be helmed by former Sugarland Police Chief Eric Robins.

As part of the public safety plan, the agency has also created a "Public Safety Ambassador" program where uniformed employees travel the system, help riders and report problems. At least one board member wondered why the agency was hiring private security guards when these employees were filling a similar role.

"My concern is that then if we're going out here to a private security firm, they've got a different focus and a different training and different mentality," Eric Stratton, who represents Williamson County, said. "I'm a little leery."

"It seems like it is not a good use of taxpayer money or fulfilling the mission because they're not part of the CapMetro core family as it were," he said. He said he would support private security guards as a temporary measure until more public safety ambassadors could be hired.

Capital Metro already uses private security guards at facilities like the agency's headquarters on East Fifth Street, an operations center in North Austin and the Transit Store on West Ninth Street. The guards are provided by California-based Inter-Con Security Services under a $10 million contract.

But this would be the first time private security guards are deployed at CapMetro transit stops, the agency said.

The decision was not discussed with Capital Metro's Public Safety Committee, a panel of volunteers appointed by the CapMetro board to oversee the agency's new foray into policing.

"I'm kind of surprised this was done, from my perspective, abruptly," Luis D. Osta Lugo, a software engineer who serves on the committee, told KUT News. "There was already a fair amount of tension in the community with the rollout of the transit police."

Osta Lugo said he approves of how CapMetro has gone about creating the police force by addressing some public concerns about the department. But he said he would also like to see the raw data that justifies the use of private security guards.

"So everyone knows at each step in the process, it was an earnest and fair and straightforward approach that did not mean to tip the scale one way or the other," he said.

KUT News has requested the safety data, including dispatch calls. Capital Metro said the data wasn't immediately available, but expected to provide it by the close of business on Friday.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Luis D. Osta Lugo's last name.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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