Metra police officers get firearm training, certification

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Former Illinois State Police Commander Joseph Perez speaks after being announced as the new head of the Metra police department on Monday, May 12, 2014. | Chandler West/For the Sun-Times

Metra police chief Joseph Perez outlined a series of overhauls on Wednesday designed to convert the once scandal-scarred force into the “premiere transit agency in the country, if not the world.”

Perez was appointed in May 2014 to clean up a police force blasted by a consultant for failing to regularly train and certify its officers in firearms; for piling up excessive overtime; and for focusing on the protection of Metra property over customers.

So far this year, Perez said, Metra officers have ridden more than 3,000 trains compared to the “couple hundred a year” in the past.

“If we protect the people, the structures will follow,” he said.

To reduce overtime, instead of assigning the same number of officers to every shift, manpower now is allotted based on the activity level of each shift, The 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift will have the biggest force, Perez said.

In addition, officers are spread among geographic areas, rather than rail lines, which can be physically close to each other at some points. Previously, Perez said, if an incident occurred on one line “officers wouldn’t work back and forth among the lines even though they may have been only yards away from each other,” Perez said.

In late 2012, consultant Hillard Heintze LLC determined that Metra police officers had not undergone any firearms qualification training in more than two years. The finding was so troubling that Metra officials asked the security consultant to immediately oversee certification training before it completed an analysis of the department.

Today, Metra officers undergo firearms training at least four times a year and are qualified annually, Perez said. Officers get updates on criminal law and traffic law changes each year. Two officers are taking an eight-session course to become certified accident reconstruction officers with the technical skill to digitally reconstruct crashes and the speed of trains and vehicles that collide, he said.

The Metra police department’s dispatch and reporting system has been completely updated, added Perez, who previously served as an Illinois State Police commander. By the end of the year, all officers should receive laptop computers that will allow them to complete or access reports in their cars. They will no longer have to wait in line on overtime at one of a handful of offices that once held the only computers that could be used to complete reports, Perez said.

“Our goal is that the Metra police department will be the premier transit law enforcement agency in the country, if not the world,” Perez told board members Wednesday.

“It’s amazing. We’re coming into the 21st century,” Board chairman Martin Oberman said. “We all applaud your goal of being the premiere transit police agency in the world.”

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