Special Jurisdiction Law Enforcement Agencies (page 3)

Updated on Aug 4, 2010

Just the Facts

Transportation policing is even older than campus policing. Private railroads established their own police forces as early as the 1840s, when their construction sites were subject to many instances of theft and trespassing. As railroads began to crisscross the country, they discovered an absence of police presence. Because individual police departments developed only as areas urbanized, once the railroads left a particular city's limits, the trains; their passengers, employees, and freight; and the rails and depots were all easy targets for thieves. Train robberies are a staple of many movies depicting crime in the western United States, but they occurred throughout the nation. Less exciting for moviegoers, thefts from rail yards and storage areas were more frequent and a constant problem.

Private railroads continue to employ police officers, but because their hiring processes differ considerably from public agency police and because individual officers may be responsible for large areas that cross state boundaries, the employment opportunities they present are not detailed here. If you live in an area with considerable railroad presence or a city where a railroad is headquartered or maintains a large regional hub, you will likely be able to learn about railroad police from the railroad in your area.

When job candidates think of rail policing today, they are more likely to have in mind urban transit systems, many of which are comprised of both bus and rail. Although not nearly as old as railroad policing, transit policing began officially in 1933 with New York City's subway special police. As early as the 1850s, though, street car operators in a number of cities complained about passengers who were intoxicated or smoking, refused to pay their fares, or preyed upon women, children, and elderly riders. In response, cities began to assign police officers to work on the transit system, sometimes irregularly and sometimes as a regular work duty. Some transit systems hired security guards. As with many special jurisdiction law enforcement agencies, managers and patrons eventually found these arrangements unsatisfactory and fullservice police departments were created and staffed to meet the specialized needs of transit systems.

Today's Transit Police

The two largest transportation agency police departments are located in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan area. Both have twostate jurisdiction. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department (PAPD) employs almost 1,700 officers, all of whom are recognized as police in both states. Officers may work at any of three major international airports (Newark Liberty, John F. Kennedy, or LaGuardia), smaller airports, the bus terminals in New York City, on the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) rail line, or the four area interstate bridges and tunnels. The other large, bistate agency is the 650-officer Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) police, many of whose officers work in New York City's Pennsylvania Station and Grand Central Terminal, but some of whom work at smaller facilities in New York and Connecticut. Both agencies offer salaries and benefits that are comparable with area police departments but are less well-known than municipal police departments in their areas.

Two cities in Texas—Dallas and Houston—also employ police officers for their transit systems. Like the PAPD and the MTA police, these officers are employed directly by either Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) or the Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO). Houstons METRO transit officers have an unusual combined jurisdiction of the transit system and the highway network. Other cities, including Washington, DC, Boston, and Atlanta also have independent transit police departments.

Many transit systems developed their own police agencies in part due to the long history of private sector railroads employing their own police, but there is also a practical reason. Many of these systems travel across city, county, and even state lines, requiring police officers to have police authority wherever the trains or buses travel. For instance, officers of the Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) in Washington, DC are also recognized by the states of Virginia and Maryland.

Antiterrorist concerns have led a number of smaller transportation agencies, particularly newer, commuter rail lines, to consider upgrading their security departments into police agencies. If you see uniformed officers working on your local transit system, it would benefit you to learn who employs them. Some might be members of the local police department who are assigned to a transit unit and some might be employees of private security companies hired to patrol agency facilities, but some are very likely to be members of the agency's own police force.

Today's Airport Police

Airport police departments developed later but similarly to transit systems. A common development pattern was that local police officers were assigned to an airport and at some point the police department and airport authority decided this was no longer appropriate. The second pattern involved security officers employed by the airport being upgraded to or replaced by fully sworn police officers.

In 2004, almost 100 airports had their own police departments; they employed about 3,000 officers. At most airports, these officers work in conjunction with city or county police or sheriffs' deputies and, since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), with Transportation Security Administration (TSA) inspectors. Although their numbers make them highly visible at airports, TSA inspectors are not police officers and must rely on police assigned to the airport if a law is violated.

Rules that require travelers to spend more time at airports have led to a greater focus on policing these facilities. Other than the PAPD, which is not solely an airport police department and is larger than all other transportation police agencies, the four largest airport departments are at the Los Angeles, Washington, DC, Wayne County (Detroit), and Dallas-Fort Worth airports. The Los Angeles Airport Police, with more than 1,000 employees, about half of whom are police officers, is the fourth largest law enforcement agency in Los Angeles County.

Although it is often the largest international airports that have their own police, Rhode Island Airport and the Boise, ID, airport are among the smaller ones with independent police departments. Because of the added responsibilities airport patrol has meant for local departments, a number of cities, including Cleveland, were considering the creation of an airport police department in 2008 rather than continuing to rely on the city police for this service.

A number of airport police departments, like transit police, particularly since September 11, 2001, have added canine units to their patrol forces and have added bicycle patrol of parking lots and outlying areas to increase their visibility and increase their interaction with travelers and employees. Some, including those at Minneapolis-St. Paul (MN) Airport and the Baton Rouge (LA) Metropolitan Airport, are also trained as firefighters and emergency responders, making these jobs particularly sought after by candidates who have fire or emergency medical technician (EMT) training.

Learning about Transit Positions

These agencies are less likely to publicize their police departments than local jurisdictions are. Although a few agencies will list open positions on policeoriented websites or advertise in police-related publications, learning about these jobs from people already in them is often the best route for information. Look closely at the police officers at a transportation facility near you. If the officer's uniform or police patch is different from that of local officers, stop the officer and inquire about his or her agency and jurisdiction. You may be surprised at how much you can learn.

If you have an airport or transit system in your area, you might also check the agency's website for information on its law enforcement arrangements and whether jobs are available. Friends or family members who work in these industries are also a good source of information. If you are a transit equipment fan and are a member of any tour or photo groups, you may also learn about jobs from other people in the group. If your school sponsors work-study options, remember to ask whether these agencies participate. If not and this is an area of interest to you, consider asking the work-study advisor or counselor to include these agencies in the program.

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