Police officers from Belleville, Swansea to help beef up security at MetroLink stations

MetroLink riders will soon see additional police patrolling metro-east stations under new agreements between the St. Clair County Transit District and local law enforcement agencies.

St. Clair County, Belleville and Swansea have approved agreements for their deputies and officers to participate in the patrols, and Fairview Heights is in the process of finalizing an agreement.

Transit officials said Shiloh police will also be providing patrols. Shiloh Police Department and village officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the status of an agreement.

A 15-person detail from the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department already patrols the MetroLink full-time. Herb Simmons, chairman of the St. Clair County Transit District’s board of trustees, said the new agreements will add a law enforcement presence to station platforms and parking lots, so those deputies can focus on patrolling the trains.

The families of shooting victims have criticized MetroLink security in 2019 and again in 2023 because no police were patrolling the metro-east stations at the time the crimes occurred.

Simmons described the new, stepped-up patrols as a proactive move rather than a response to any specific incident or incidents. The goal is to deter people from committing crimes and make riders feel safer, according to Simmons.

Officials have been working to increase MetroLink security for years, both in response to crime on the light-rail system and in order to improve the perception of safety and make riders feel comfortable using it.

Crime against passengers is relatively low compared to how many people use MetroLink to get around the St. Louis region, according to a past BND investigation of crime data. The top security official for MetroLink reaffirmed it after the most recent fatal shooting on a train in the metro-east, which occurred in July.

The rate of crime per 100,000 boardings is less than 1%, according to Kevin Scott, general manager for security for MetroLink and other transportation services.

Ridership is down, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic, but the system still provides millions of trips per year.

From 2016 to 2023, passengers used the MetroLink for 81 million trips to Illinois and Missouri. In that same time frame, police investigated about 27 crimes against passengers in the metro-east, according to past BND coverage.

The crimes included:

  • 11 robberies or attempted robberies.

  • Nine shootings, three of them fatal.

  • Four aggravated batteries.

  • Three carjackings.

Under the new patrol agreements, officers and deputies can volunteer for shifts at MetroLink stations on their days off. They will patrol in uniform and in marked police cars if vehicles are available. They can leave the voluntary patrols to respond to other emergencies and incidents in their jurisdictions if necessary, the agreements state.

The St. Clair County Transit District is paying for the new patrols. The district is supported by sales taxes and state grants.

Officers in Belleville and Swansea and St. Clair County sheriff deputies will be paid their overtime rates:

  • Belleville: $58.86 per hour for officers and $65.68 per hour for sergeants.

  • Swansea: $58.27 per hour for officers and $64.21 per hour for sergeants.

  • St. Clair County: between about $51 per hour and $67 per hour, depending on years of service.

Fairview Heights Police Chief Steve Johnson said Fairview officers will be paid at their normal rates rather than overtime rates. Base pay is between $30.61 and $45.64 per hour for officers and between $40.43 and $49.44 per hour for sergeants, according to Fraternal Order of Police contracts.

When asked about the additional cost, St. Clair County Transit District Director Ken Sharkey said the county has “always put a premium on security for people traveling on the system.”

Sharkey is also a St. Clair County Board member representing District 11, which includes Fairview Heights and O’Fallon.

MetroLink has 11 stations in Illinois: four in East St. Louis, three in Belleville and one each in Fairview Heights, Swansea, Shiloh and Washington Park.

Simmons said the agreements with St. Clair County, Belleville, Swansea, Fairview Heights and Shiloh will serve as a pilot program. Belleville and Swansea signed on for at least one year. St. Clair County signed on for at least two.

Transit officials hope to eventually have MetroLink patrol agreements with police departments in East St. Louis and Washington Park as well, according to Simmons. Police chiefs in East St. Louis and Washington Park did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The St. Clair County Transit District also contracts with Chestnut Health Systems to have mental health advisors on trains to help people in need find services for issues like mental health and homelessness, which are not easily resolved by police officers. The mental health advisors connected over 2,000 riders to services in 2023, according to Chestnut.