After seeing a police report that said dozens of light rail riders were cited at the 19th Avenue and Camelback Road station, Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio logged onto Twitter.
A diehard opponent of the light rail, DiCiccio began channeling Agatha Christie.
"MURDER ON THE LIGHT RAIL EXPRESS," he exclaimed. He listed the number of fare-dodging citations and arrests made during what the cops said was a 90-minute enforcement action. "Again, this is just ONE location, ONE AND A HALF HOURS!" DiCiccio added.
In a series of tweets on Friday morning, DiCiccio spun the news of the arrests and fare-dodging citations as evidence of a criminal element running rampant on the light rail. He even called it the #ShopliftersExpress.
In his Twitter tirade, DiCiccio also retweeted supporters who said the police should patrol the light rail with K-9 units ("Getting tired of all the drug users") and who argued that the light rail means taxpayers "get soaked for billions of dollars so the criminals can move around affordably."
The Phoenix police crackdown on light rail riders occurred on Wednesday morning at the 19th Avenue and Camelback Road station.
Officers from the Desert Horizon Precinct as well as Valley Metro's contracted private security firm, Allied Universal, arrested eight people and cited 46 for riding without a ticket, according to an email sent by the Phoenix Police Department's city manager liaison.
There was one arrest for a felony parole violation warrant and seven arrests for misdemeanor warrants.
But by ticketing riders at this station, police happened to target a majority-minority neighborhood where many residents are struggling to make ends meet.
The intersection where the light rail turns onto 19th Avenue from Camelback Road is across the street from a Dollar General and next to Zia Record Exchange, and the station there attracts a significant number of passengers on any given day who appear to be experiencing homelessness or living in transience.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 35 percent of people in the surrounding ZIP code live below the poverty line, which is more than double the rate for the Phoenix metro area. Nearly half of all nearby residents are Hispanic and 10 percent are African-American.
Fines for riding the light rail without a ticket range from $50 to $500, plus any court fees. The Phoenix Police Department did not immediately respond to questions about the light rail crackdown.
What's sad is that female passengers can't ride the light rail without being harassed & every single week we get a report of another violent incident on the cars https://t.co/kA8VDMrOPi— Sal DiCiccio (@Sal_DiCiccio) June 1, 2018
Sam Stone, DiCiccio's chief of staff, echoed his boss and argued in favor of greater enforcement. The light rail is a hotbed of crime, he said, and added that many riders, particularly women, feel unsafe.
"We can’t have this be a transport system for people who aren’t paying and who drive off all the other customers," Stone said.
Extrapolating from the number of people who were cited during the 90-minute period at the station — 46 people were cited after making contact with 250 people, the cops said — Stone said that as many as 20 percent of the light rail's riders could be riding without a ticket.
To be clear, the segment of riders who didn't have a ticket was 18.4 percent out of everyone the police questioned. It's unknown at this time whether officers systematically asked every passenger for their ticket, or if they targeted some individuals and not others.
Nevertheless, Stone's point is that staff at the city of Phoenix either don't understand the full extent of fare-jumping on the light rail or believe that fare-jumping is rare. With this enforcement action, "PPD just blew that narrative straight out of the water," Stone said.
Even so, Stone admitted that DiCiccio's all-caps Twitter post was "probably hyperbole."
The student newspaper Downtown Devil obtained statistics from Valley Metro that showed only 8 percent of light rail riders didn't pay the fare during a three-month period near the end of 2017.
One year ago, Phoenix police and Valley Metro announced plans to beef up the presence of police officers and private security along the light rail's 19th Avenue extension in response to resident complaints.
And in October, Valley Metro unveiled a new, broadened code of conduct for the light rail: no riding the light rail all day, no loitering in so-called "paid fare zones," and no "loud or disruptive" conduct. Under the new rules, security officers can kick a rider off the train for disorderly conduct.
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