There are multiple pathways to a career as a transit officer. Transit officers may be sworn police officers or contract security officers. Often one will find both working for a single entity, although in different capacities.
This is big business! Major cities typically have their own transit police unit. There may, in fact, be multiple divisions. The police unit may utilize non-sworn contract security for some roles.
Police typically have higher salaries than non-sworn security – though there is a wide range of salaries reported for both.
Transit officers serve multiple roles. They serve as a crime deterrent and a visible reminder of expectations. They may enforce fare payment, intervene in arguments and altercations, and provide surveillance. Sworn officers may make arrests. Transit officers work with officers in other departments when major crimes are committed.
One might think of the force as layered. There are those who are present, handling the day to day, and those who are deployed to handle serious problems. Agencies can use a variety of deployment methods (http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/tcrp/tcrp_webdoc_15-d.pdf).
Officers also work behind the scenes. King County Metro (Seattle area) officers count among their tasks educating other transit employees about safety and security on buses and transit facilities (https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/sheriff/police-partnerships/partners-list/metro.aspx). They take a proactive approach in crime prevention.
Some transit officers have ambassador-type duties.
Job settings and Roles
One can find transit officers in bus stations, subway and rail stations, and ports, among other locations. Some officers protect transit properties. Some ride the bus!
Transit companies may have bike patrols, foot patrols, and mobile patrols. Transit officers may work for specialized units like the following:
• Fare enforcement
• K-9 Patrol (explosive detection)
Local government constitutes the largest employment group for transit police.
Securitas, G4S, and Allied Universal are among the private security companies that have recently sought transit security professionals.
Becoming a Transit Officer
One does not necessarily need a degree to become a transit police officer, though some jurisdictions prefer it. A recent ad by Detroit Transportation Corporation (DTC), for example, noted the bachelor’s degree among the preferred qualifications.
The most common educational levels for transit and railroad police, according to Career One Stop, are ‘some college’ (31%), associate’s degree (18%), and bachelor’s degree (31%) (https://www.careeronestop.org/Toolkit/Careers/Occupations/occupation-profile.aspx?keyword=Transit%20and%20Railroad%20Police&onetcode=33305200&location=UNITED%20STATES&lang=en).
The process is very competitive. Candidates may have both a written test and a physical agility test. They may also have a psychological evaluation.
Selected candidates can expect to attend a police academy. They may have a lengthy probationary period. The amount of training is variable. DC’s Metro Transit Police (MTP) members receive 1,492 hours of education and performance-based training. They receive 10 additional weeks of training in the field.
Contract security companies, meanwhile, set standards high. A recent advertisement for transit security officer by G4S noted an associate’s degree in criminal justice among the pathways. Experience in the military or police service could also be considered.
Cultural and Linguistic Considerations
Human factors count – including linguistic and cultural ones. Minnesota’s Metro Transit reported that more than half of their 2017 class spoke a language other than English (https://www.metrotransit.org/transit-police-careers).
BART noted a bilingual pay incentive.
A Look at Police Transit Systems in Major Metropolitan Areas
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) utilizes armed and unarmed security guards (with armed guards serving the Revenue Department and Customer Service Center). SFMTA also utilizes uniformed and plain clothes officers under command of the SFPD Traffic Company Commander (https://www.sfmta.com/units/security-investigations).
Valley Metro (Phoenix area) utilizes Field Security Officers (contract security) for duties such as fare inspection, customer service, and enforcement of the general code of conduct. They are supported by police officers from Phoenix, Mesa, and Tempe (https://www.valleymetro.org/how-to-ride/safety/security).
Some organizations tout what they do to protect their officers as well as members of the public. BART recruitment materials note crisis intervention training and body cameras for all officers.
Transit and railway police earned $71,820 (or $34.53 an hour) in 2019. Those at the 10th percentile earned $43,220 while those at the 90th percentile earned $99,320. BLS Data May, 2019
The following are among the pay rates and benefit packages that transit police units are enticing candidates with in 2021:
BART (Bay Area) is paying well above the norm, with base salary starting at $97,193 (or higher for qualifying officers).There are hiring bonuses on top of this. Benefits are generous and increase with longevity; one can earn ‘lifetime medical’.
At Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (DC), new hires without police or military experience start at $58,136. Officers with qualifying experience and education may start as high as $71,714. Salaries can go as high as $104,340. Transit police officers enjoy a nice benefit package on top of that, including tuition reimbursement – and free transit by bus or rail.
There are opportunities for advancement. The organizational structure of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority Transit Police Department includes sergeant and lieutenant roles (http://www.riderta.com/transitpolice).
Some high level positions are lateral entry. As an example, one might consider a 2020 posting for senior crime analyst for Seattle’s Metro Transit Police (https://www.cjtc.wa.gov/docs/default-source/job-postings/2020—senior-crime-analyst-2019cbm09459-pdf.pdf?sfvrsn=61d8b610_0). Among the qualifiers: prior crime analysis experience. This is a position for candidates with graduate level education, whether in criminology or a statistical field.