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The Charlotte Area Transit System in North Carolina is the largest transit system between Atlanta, GA, and Washington, D.C. Established in 1999, the transit system now has more than 70 local, express and regional bus routes, a light rail line, services for disabled individuals and vanpools serving more than 24 million trips each year.
Managed by the Public Transit Department, a department of the city of Charlotte, CATS maintains a dual focus, managing and continually improving day-to-day operations of the region’s transit services within a six-county area.
CATS is one of the main forms of transportation into the city. There are 325 buses and 20 trains and nine miles of track for the light rail system that run seven days a week, 20 hours a day. CATS is growing and expanding services for the community and visitors and it is important that all individuals throughout the transit system are safe.
CATS proposed an expansion in 2006 that would include the creation of a light rail system. However, an addition in transit services meant there would need to be additional safety and security measures on top of existing resources. Transit industry best practices called for a security presence beyond traditional security officers. CATS initially planned to hire police officers from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, but the City of Charlotte resisted due to budgeting concerns. The transit system needed an alternative means of securing the new rail lines.
AlliedBarton Security Services had been providing traditional security services at the transit facility and other large key stops on the transit system for many years. Because an effective security program was already established, CATS inquired about AlliedBarton’s transit police services. “CATS inquired about our ability to provide transit police services,” said DelMar Laury, Vice President/General Manager, AlliedBarton. “They believed we could be their answer to the police service challenge from the city. At the time though, we had never been asked to provide private police services. However, we viewed this as an opportunity as we often adapt to meet our clients’ needs. We immediately set out to help CATS find a solution.”
Laury knew the CATS challenge could be met, but AlliedBarton would need to establish its own company police force. A company or special police department is a private police department comprised of special law enforcement officers who work for a private company rather than a government agency. According to the Company Police Association of North Carolina, the history of company police dates back more than 125 years.
There are advantages to company police organizations. Company police hire, train and supervise their own teams of personnel who must meet the same training and licensing criteria as sworn, municipal police officers. Company police also provide a dedicated and immediate response of special policemen while minimizing staffing delays or down time. In some areas, local police departments simply do not have the level of staffing needed to provide the dedicated police officers desired by private organizations like hospitals, housing communities, transit authorities and others. Because of this, private organizations can create their own company police to help staffing needs.
Even though AlliedBarton had an established relationship with CATS, there was no guarantee that they would be given the opportunity to provide special police services. All company police organizations who wanted to take part in the Request for Proposal would have to go through a bid process with the city. CATS needed to provide a visible deterrence and have a police force to respond to all issues. It was also critical that crime rates remain low.
In 2008, AlliedBarton established a company police program, and they were soon contracted by CATS to provide special police services for the new light rail system.
The North Carolina AlliedBarton Company Police force maintains strict adherence to requirements of North Carolina Statute 74E* and other state laws to ensure proper training, certification and qualifications for each of its officers.
To be commissioned as a company police officer, AlliedBarton employees have to meet standards required for employment and certification as a law enforcement officer in North Carolina, including completion of the Basic Law Enforcement Training course. Additionally, they must successfully complete an examination on the law and administrative rules governing company police. If approved, the employee will also receive law enforcement certification from the North Carolina Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission. Once the individual has been officially sworn in by attesting to an oath of office, they receive a commission from the Attorney General’s office. This commission will give the company police officer the same subject matter jurisdiction as other sworn law enforcement officers to make arrests for both felonies and misdemeanors, as well as to charge for infractions. However, the authority of company police officers is subject to territorial jurisdiction limitations.
Once the AlliedBarton Company Police force was established, they went through the city’s bid process and were chosen to perform transit police services for CATS. There are now more than 40 sworn AlliedBarton Company Police officers assigned specifically to CATS with 14 additional traditional security officers still providing security services for the transit and the retail centers. AlliedBarton also has six full-time dispatchers working the transit system who log all calls and report all incidents to the company police.
“When CATS opened the light rail system, we immediately started providing the special police services,” said Laury. “Chief Robert Qualkenbush, AlliedBarton Company Police, was hired to supervise the team and ensure quality was a top priority.”
In the beginning, AlliedBarton was only patrolling the light rail platforms and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officers were supplementing CATS by providing services on the trains and as fair inspectors. Over time, CATS transitioned these services to AlliedBarton as well.
“CATS quickly viewed the AlliedBarton Company Police as an asset to the community,” said Chief Qualkenbush. “We proved that we could add a dedicated law enforcement presence to the transit system and show measureable results. We also maintain an excellent relationship with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department as we assist them if issues cross into our jurisdiction.”
“Our company police officers are an integral part of the transit system,” said Chief Qualkenbush. “Riders welcome our presence throughout the system as they understand we are there to protect them. Because we are a private organization, we can provide a dedicated special police presence to help CATS meet their commitment of providing a safe environment.”
The AlliedBarton Company Police have also continued to build their relationship with the local law enforcement and community. “We have strong relationships with municipal and state police departments, security organizations, and business and community groups throughout the state,” said Chief Qualkenbush. “It is an honor to be entrusted with enforcing the law and maintaining the safety and security of the public at CATS.”
“The special police services that AlliedBarton is providing us are highly recognized by the community,” said Bryan Leaird, General Manager of Safety and Security, CATS.
“They, in conjunction with a great working relationship with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police, provide us with a level of respect and authority that has translated to keeping the transit system safe.”
When comparing the 2010 through 2012 calendar years, the effectiveness of the AlliedBarton Company Police is clear. In the 2011 and 2012 calendar years, there was more than a 40 percent drop in crime against person and property, and in 2011 there were 729 arrests and 3,149 criminal citations issued by the company police as compared to the 2010 calendar year.
“The company police officers have made a significant impact on the transit system and I applaud CATS for identifying a need for a police force dedicated to the system,” said Chief Qualkenbush. “Because of our dedicated special police presence, we’ve made arrests, become a trusted resource for riders and a partner for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. The result is a strong deterrence to crime and a safer environment.”
“The drop in crime rates is an indication that the officers are actively engaged and committed to maintaining a safe and secure environment for our riders,” said Leaird.
*More information on North Carolina Statute 74E can be found at www.ncga.state.nc.us