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Transit police: Response was quick

Post reporters examine brawl l Dr. Gridlock chat

Metro transit police officers were in the Gallery Place Station on Friday night when a large group of boisterous young people boarded a train for home, and they were at L'Enfant Plaza when a fight broke among them, Deputy Transit Chief David Webb said this afternoon.

I asked Webb to describe the police response to the incident because many of you expressed concern about it during my online chat Monday. The deputy chief addressed some of your frequently asked questions.

[Post reporters are out Monday and Tuesday nights examining the clash and the street scene in which it brewed. You can Tweet with them by following that link. My focus here is on the police response, which many riders feared was too slow and indicated a safety problem.]

Webb said the incident started when people in the Gallery Place entertainment district began heading for the Metro station, because of the 11 p.m. youth curfew. Webb said that both D.C. police and transit police expect this on a summer weekend night and are in communication about it, both on the streets and underground.

Transit police were in the station at the time this boisterous crowd arrived on the platform, Webb said. They were watching the crowd, as they routinely do, and while the young people were highly animated, the police saw no activity that led to any arrests.

Much of the crowd of about 70 boarded the next Green Line train in the direction of Branch Avenue, Webb said. He said he did not know whether any of the transit officers at Gallery Place boarded the train with them. He said it would not have been unusual for police to do so, but he had no reports about it.

It's a three-minute trip from Gallery Place to L'Enfant Plaza. When the train arrived and opened its doors, a fight -- a big fight -- spilled out onto the platform. There was at least one transit police officer there at the time, and the officer called for back up, which led to a large police response, Webb said. Some of the officers who had been at Gallery Place headed south to the scene of the fight. (At the same time, passengers were reporting the trouble to authorities.)

Two juveniles were arrested in a charge that amounts to fighting amongst themselves. One adult was charged with assault.

Some of you were concerned about how quickly transit officers can respond to an incident, citing some personal experiences where you thought the response was too slow. The deputy chief said officers might take the trains in some cases, but they also have patrol cars, bikes and scooters. Or they can just run between stations. "I've done it," Webb said.

The incident still is under investigation and police continue to ask for help from witnesses. Call Metro's investigations unit at 202-962-1792.

Webb said police still are not sure exactly what sparked the conflict, but he said the police review so far indicates that this was not a continuous fight extending from the Gallery Place platform, onto a Green Line train and then onto the L'Enfant Plaza platform.

I tried to channel some of your questions about what riders should do when they see people acting up, something that's quite common during the day, before and after school. Is there a threshold? If you see a certain type of activity, should you then call police?

"We want the system to be safe," he said. Call as soon as you see something you think is unsafe. Go to another car before making a call if you feel threatened. Use the intercom to contact the train operator. Call transit police directly at 202-962-2121. (I've got on a speed dial in my mobile phone.)

Don't try to deal with a trouble-maker yourself. That could escalate out of your control. As Webb put it, "Don't engage."

By Robert Thomson  | August 9, 2010; 7:55 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock, metrorail  
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