METRO and Chron: What METRO elite counterterror unit?

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METRO police chief Victor Rodriguez apparently wants the public to think that not only does METRO not have an elite police squad within its ranks, but that it’s just plain silly for people to think any such thing. The Chronicle‘s dutifully incurious transportation secretarial journalist Dug Begley shared this tidbit from his institutional source last week:

For some reason, there are people who think the Metropolitan Transit Authority has a special weapons and tactics team. It’s one of many items that came up at the first meeting of a new public safety committee for the agency.

Metro does not, by the way, have a SWAT team, as agency police chief Victor Rodriguez explained. Four members of the police department are trained as a part-time special operations team, tasked with responding to specific emergencies on the rail line, like a mass shooting or chemical attack. Normally they are assigned to regular duty along the rail line.

“I have heard criticism they are out doing SWAT things or city things and I can absolutely assure you they are not,” Rodriguez said, responding to a question from Metro board member Jim Robinson.

So, neither Begley nor his institutional source can figure out why anyone might think METRO has an elite police unit within its ranks even as the admission that there is a special operations team comes out of one’s mouth to be transcribed accurately on the other one’s blog?

Strange.

Chief Lambert’s Elite Counterterror Unit created after 9/11

Of course, a more *ahem* curious journalist might have gone back to the 2005 Chron archives, instead of insulting the intelligence of readers with that first sentence on his blog. Had Dug Begley done so, he might have found this (which has been a great source of amusement/mockery for us over the years):

Some Metro riders have wondered about the combat-garbed men patrolling light rail stations and bus transit centers. They look like soldiers, but their uniforms say POLICE.

In fact, they are Metropolitan Transit Authority police officers, and Chief Tom Lambert introduced two of them Thursday at the Metro board’s monthly meeting.

Officers Joe Drescher and Dennis Ribeiro are part of the agency’s Special Operations Response Team, which was formed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., but had not been deployed in public until the July 7 terrorist bombings of trains and a bus in London.

They were wearing pistols, but the SORT team has automatic rifles available if needed. Lambert said training includes 40 hours on a tactical shooting range, classes in handling hazardous materials, and the use of dogs and portable X-ray devices to examine suspicious packages.

The olive drab uniforms are overlaid with black body armor and belts to carry cartridges and other equipment. Secret Service-style earpieces with a cord disappearing under the shirt is also part of the gear. [Note: earpieces is? Come on, Chron copy editors]

Lambert said the group, which consists of 16 Metro police officers and two sergeants, has trained with “experts from Israel” as well as from the FBI, Transportation Security Administration and several U.S. transit agencies.

[snip]

One Houston Chronicle reader wrote that two SORT officers he encountered refused to show him their badges, causing him to wonder whether they were really police.

That was written by Rad Sallee for the Houston Chronicle in 2005. A more curious journalist (not of the secretarial school) might occasionally check his own newspaper’s archives before printing nonsense. But as we already know from past performance, research is not really Begley’s style.

Of course, the genius running METRO PD at the time (good old Chief Lambert!) who was bragging about the METRO Elite Counterterror Unit (our fun nickname for the silly thing) is now running the whole of the dysfunctional transit agency these days, which explains a great deal.

Kevin Whited
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Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX