It was a Sarin gas attack by members of a cult that ultimately killed 12 people and sickened more than 5,000, in a subway station, that led many transit authorities in the world to adjust their practices, their processes and their training.
by Site Staff
November 5, 2003
On March 20, 1995, shortly after 8 a.m. Tokyo time, reports of toxic fumes in a subway station started coming in. It was a Sarin gas attack by members of a cult that ultimately killed 12 people and sickened more than 5,000.
This event led many other transit authorities in the world to adjust their practices, their processes and their training. Among these were changes made at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. According to Captain Jeff Delinski, Director of the Training Division for the WMATA’s Metro Transit Police, the Sarin gas attack in Tokyo prompted the agency to change its training to include antiterrorism training.
The only tri-jurisdictional police agency in the United States, the Metro Transit Police have been policing the subway and bus systems in the U.S. capital and surrounding area for more than 25 years. “We are a 373-member agency, and our primary responsibilities are ensuring the safety of our patrons, our employees and protecting the property of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which is primarily the subway systems and the bus systems throughout Maryland, D.C., and Virginia,” said Delinski. The Metro Transit Police is a fully operational police agency, with foot patrols, scout cars, motor unit, K-9 unit, a bomb squad, SRT team and civil disturbance units. On a weekday, more than 1 million people are transported by the Transit Authority.
Because the Metro Transit Police have full police powers in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., they must be certified in all three states. “Our officers go through the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy and the Metro Transit Police Academy in order to receive certification in Virginia Maryland and D.C.,” said Delinski.
In addition to certification through the police academies, there is in-service training for all members of the agency. “Our officers receive legal updates, defensive tactics and customer service training—anything that’s new or needs improvement upon,” said Delinski. “We put a variety of courses into an in-service program each year that every officer and sergeant is required to take.”
The Metro Police attend their classes in person; there are no courses delivered over the intranet at this point, though Delinski said that option might be open to them in the future. Much of the learning is hands-on, making classroom instruction the ideal delivery method. In addition, Delinski said learning isn’t the only thing that takes place in the classroom. “We want to see faces as much as possible,” he said. “There’s a real benefit to that. When you’re in the training environment, you not only talk about training issues, but other things that concern the members. We get a number of things accomplished during these training sessions.”
Following 9/11, Delinski said the Metro Police had to reassess their training once more. “Pretty much everything changed across the board,” he said. “We had to go back and look at everything we’ve done and fit it into a new paradigm of terrorism. 9/11 raised the bar tremendously.” He added, “There’s been a tidal wave of training and equipment that’s been coming in since 9/11, and we’re taking advantage of all of our opportunities as best we can.”
For example, in-service training for the Metro Police this year covered weapons of mass destruction. “We conduct a training scenario where officers suit up in personal protective gear and conduct an exercise in a train filled with smoke,” said Delinski.
One of the biggest challenges in training the Metro Transit Police is coordination, according to Delinski. Keeping track of the various training sessions is difficult. When the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority implemented the THINQ learning management system, Delinski said he was skeptical at first of the purported abilities of the LMS to make things easier and more efficient. But he said the software will help them move from a cumbersome reporting system to a much more efficient operation. “The goal is to be able to conduct queries and electronically send our training records and firearms scores to the state agencies each year,” he said. “We will hopefully be able to do that in a few minutes as opposed to manually going through and doing database queries and getting out the old notepad and figuring out who did what.”
Delinski added, “This January when Maryland and Virginia need our numbers, we’ll be able to push the buttons, send it over and be done with it, whereas before it would take a week to gather all the information.”
In addition, Delinski said they have trained patrol sergeants to register the officers under their command for mandatory training, ridding them of paper-based request forms. “They can register themselves, and we can go into the computer and find out who’s registered and who’s not, ” said Delinski. “We can do that at any time.”
By keeping track of mandatory training and compliance issues, the Metro Transit Police ensure that they are ready as first responders to incidents on the subways and buses they police—ready to protect the millions of citizens they serve.
Emily Hollis is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer Magazine. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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