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CATS lacks security at transit centers even after shooting of beloved bus driver

Even someone on the CATS safety committee says they were never made aware of a lack of security officers at any of the transit centers.
Even someone on the CATS safety committee says they were never made aware of a lack of security officers at any of the transit centers.
Published: Mar. 10, 2022 at 5:42 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 10, 2022 at 8:48 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A WBTV Investigation has found a security gap with CATS that could put bus drivers’ and passengers’ safety at risk.

Some of the city’s biggest transit centers, where both drivers and riders meet, currently have no security officers even in the wake of the shooting that killed driver Ethan Rivera.

Safety and security has been a priority for CATS employees since Rivera was shot on the job on February 12th.

On February 28th, drivers took their concerns about security to city council and CATS CEO John Lewis promised to prioritize their security.

“But we are working again with our unit to really provide a targeted response in areas that are most concerning to our employees,” Lewis told WBTV.

But our investigation found there were no security officers at some of the most frequented CATS bus stops.

CATS has four main transit centers where the volume of drivers and passengers is often greatest.

At three of them, WBTV couldn’t find any security officers. At the South Park mall stop, the Rosa Parks station on Beatties Ford and at Eastland. These transit centers are normally staffed by security.

WBTV confirmed with multiple drivers at the transit centers they hadn’t seen security for two weeks.

Drivers like Renee Holzbach are frustrated with the lack of action.

“You have to understand, it’s not just drivers, it’s passengers being put in danger too,” Holzbach said.

Holzbach is a CATS bus driver who just left her job after the shooting of Ethan Rivera. She said she’s been assaulted while on the job too.

“I didn’t even see him when he got on the bus. I just knew that I got struck and my nose was broken,” Holzbach said.

Even though Holzbach was on CATS safety committee, she says she was never made aware of a lack of security officers at any of the transit centers.

“I really believe that it’s just this company Charlotte Area Transit system that is not safe and I’ve been trying to tell them for years as a safety officer,” Holzbach said.

WBTV reached out to CATS about the hole in security at transit centers and asked if there were any other gaps. They didn’t answer many of our questions but sent an email statement in response.

“It is CATS’ understanding that there was an issue between Allied (the security contractor) and one of its subcontractors (PSS) who provided security at facilities such as Rosa Parks Community Transit Center.”

“While Allied secures additional officers, CATS Safety & Security staff is providing coverage at facilities. Additionally, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has increased its presence at CATS facilities, including the Charlotte Transportation Center in Uptown Charlotte.”

While CATS is saying they’ve taken these steps, WBTV’s visits to these transit centers found no security at all. Holzbach says CATS needs to back up its words with actions because drivers don’t feel safe or protected.

“That’s traumatizing, who can operate a bus like that? Always looking over their shoulder, always thinking you know, is this my day and am I going to make it back to my family?” Holzbach said.

WBTV obtained an email outlining what CATS is doing to address drivers concerns.

Security Enhancements on Routes and Targeted Facilities

Short Term – CMPD has added patrols of the Charlotte Transit Center (CTC) and bus routes requested by SMART Employee Union.

Department of Homeland Security Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams will make random visits to and patrol CATS facilities (first VIPR visit occurred 3/3/22).

Long Term – CATS will add additional company security (Allied Universal) resources for all bus facilities and routes requested by SMART Employee Union, along with additional rail patrols.

De-Escalation Training for Bus Operators

CATS is working with CMPD to identify and implement de-escalation training for bus operators and CATS frontline employees. This training will be given to current bus operators and added to new employee training program.

Bus Radio Equipment Malfunctions

CATS has surveyed every bus to identify and fix any malfunctioning bus radios.

CATS Instituted new daily procedures for radio checks prior to morning pull-out. Any bus that has malfunctioning radio will be immediately swapped out for another bus.

Retention and Recruitment Bonuses

RATPDEV will provide its employees with same recruitment and retention bonuses that CATS/City employees have received. Bonuses will be paid within the next 30 days.

Read CATS full statement to WBTV

CATS and Allied Universal have a positive working relationship and there is no dispute between the two. It is CATS’ understanding that there was an issue between Allied and one of its subcontractors who provided security at facilities such as Rosa Parks Community Transit Center. Allied is experiencing the same law enforcement struggles that agencies across the country are dealing with. However, CATS is holding Allied accountable under the terms of its contract to have coverage at all CATS facilities. While Allied secures additional officers, CATS Safety & Security staff is providing coverage at facilities. Additionally, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has increased its presence at CATS facilities, including the Charlotte Transportation Center in Uptown Charlotte. There are also camera systems on all CATS vehicles, at transit centers and park and rides. CATS also has emergency blue light phones at its facilities. If anyone sees anything suspicious or criminal activity, we ask them to use the CATS See/Say app to report the problem or call 911.

Security measures are in place, and CATS will continue to make enhancements. These enhancements include, but are not limited to, CMPD police officers assigned to CATS intermittently checking on bus drivers and walking through buses at various locations throughout the city. Allied Universal guards patrolling CATS parking decks will conduct driver and bus checks when a bus arrives at the deck. There are also emergency notification systems on all buses.

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