North County Transit lays off code enforcement officers - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

North County Transit lays off code enforcement officers

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OCEANSIDE (CBS 8) - The North County Transit District (NCTD) has voted to lay off its enforcement officers that patrol local train and bus stations.

The move is raising eyebrows because the officers recently voted to unionize.

Last week, gun violence erupted at two separate North County transit stations. A bus driver was shot Thursday at the Escondido Transit Station. Another person was shot the night before at the Buena Creek Station in Vista.

Two transit officers spoke anonymously to CBS News 8 about the district's plan to lay off enforcement officers come July 1.

Both officers said the train and bus stations are magnets for crime.

“There is prostitution going on at the Oceanside bathrooms. There's rampant drug use. We handle everything from smoking violations to fist fights,” said one NCTD officer.

The layoffs were announced two months after 33 NCTD officers voted to unionize with SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers.

“I believe this happened in order to prevent the code enforcement officers from unionizing and Matt Tucker from losing control of a fraction of his organization,” one enforcement officer told us.

Matthew Tucker is executive director of NCTD. He said the transit officers were never intended to be police officers.

“We’re in the process of working on an agreement with the city of Oceanside and the city of Escondido that would provide a community policing approach to both of these locations with police officers,” said Tucker.

Tucker said the laid off transit enforcement officers will be allowed to apply for newly-created “train attendant” jobs with a private company that currently operates the Sprinter train.

The same union will represent the workers as employees of the private contractor, Bombardier, Inc.

“Those workers are being fully taken care of. If you look at the agreement the priority of hiring has been respected and they're being given the top billing in terms of first review for hire,” said Tucker.

In the new train attendant positions, the former officers check passenger tickets on the trains and conduct fare enforcement, but they will not typically cite or arrest people at the stations for crimes like assault, disturbing the peace, drunk in public, gang graffiti, or illegally carrying a weapon.

“For crimes that are actually committed within our transit system, we always direct people to contact the police department,” said Tucker.

NCTD officers say they actually deter crime by patrolling the stations. Once they leave, they said, crimes like the recent shootings could skyrocket.

“We have gangs in Escondido, Vista and Oceanside and they're going to be more prevalent,” said one transit officer.

“Nobody's able to have the quick response time that we have now because they will have to rely on law enforcement notification. Law enforcement is very busy. They may take 20 to 30 to 40 minutes to get there,” the transit officer said.

NCTD currently has a contract in place with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department to provide security at some of the North County stations.

Down in San Diego, the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) is actually taking the exact opposite approach to transit security.

MTS currently is in the process of hiring 30 more transit enforcement officers, as the agency moves to a beat system at its trolley and bus stations.

“They are going to be assigned to a smaller geographical area, three to five stations, so they're going to be getting on and off between those stations, coordinating fare enforcement and also enforcing issues at any of our stations,” said Manny Guaderrama, Director of Enforcement at MTS.

MTS officers will have the authority to cite and arrest people for infractions and misdemeanors both on and off the trolley trains and buses.

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