When Transit Police Commander Mike Crebs walks into Vestal Elementary School on 82nd Avenue, smiling and sporting a black uniform and badge, the students tend to see him as a kind of celebrity.
Mike spends his lunch hour on Fridays at the school as part of the Big Brothers program, where he sits and talks with his high-energy “Little” and plays kickball and foursquare. Mike’s been a Big Brother for four years, and is in his second year with his Little Brother, Norman.
Mike has worked with youth since his days on the force in Salt Lake City as a school resource officer, and then taught here as part of the GREAT (Gang Resistance Education and Training) program, in which officers take a proactive role in preventing crime. He also sits on the Board of Governors for the Boys and Girls Club.
Mike says this experience has helped him in his job running the Transit Police Division, a partnership of 17 police agencies working together to keep riders safe. Mike oversees 58 officers in four offices in a three-county area. Youth make up 17 percent of all rides on TriMet’s system, and Mike acknowledges that much of the disruptions on the system are in part caused by youth.
“Kids have so much energy. Adults, when they’re on the bus, they just want to read. But a teenager is a little more boisterous.”
“Do we blame the kid?” he asks. “I don’t think so.” But there’s a line he draws between a kid just being a kid and when to intervene. According to Mike, that intervention works best before it’s ever needed, whether it’s by being a Big Brother, a commander or just a member of the community.
For Mike, being a Big Brother is an opportunity to provide “one more asset for a young person—whether that be a parent, coach, teacher or neighbor—that one person who might strike a chord.”
As a 40-foot bus pulls over at SE Powell Boulevard and 42nd Avenue, more than a dozen youth in bright yellow T-shirts hop off the bus and run, boot-camp style, to the nearby bus shelters and sidewalks. With gloves on and garbage bags in tow, the crew fans out, picking up trash, filling their bags, and then heading back to the bus.
Behind this well-oiled machine is A.K. Rucker, who started TriMet’s “First Step” program 13 years ago. The First Step program is an intensive 10-week jobs program where at-risk youth, ages 14 to 18, get the opportunity to have a summer job and learn responsibility and the value of hard work. A TriMet bus operator for 30 years, A.K. selects his bus routes based on areas where he knows he can reach youth and encourage them to apply for First Step.
“TriMet wanted to get involved in North and Northeast Portland because of the gangs,” he says, recalling a time when Portland gang activity centered in that area. “There was a lot of vandalism on the system and in the community. I was working with youth at the Boys and Girls Club, and some of the kids were upset that they couldn’t get jobs.”
“I’ve had kids come back and say, ‘I never thought I’d go to college.’ But they come here and realize they can go to college and do something with their lives.”
The idea for First Step came to A.K. in the spring of 1998, and TriMet was able to launch the program that same summer.
Cleaning bus shelters and sidewalks may seem like grunt work, but the youth approach it with an energy and pride that can point them in a positive direction for the rest of their lives. Sometimes past participants driving past will spot the crew, pull over on the side of the road and tell the kids that if they can make it through this, it’ll pay off.
For Rucker, the program is about showing the kids the community, and showing them another option other than gangs.
When we think of Rose Festival, many think about colorful floats, marching bands and carnival rides. Ryan Hughes, lead supervisor for TriMet Field Operations, thinks about bus and MAX service for thousands of riders who take transit to festival events.
Before the first tuba is tuned, Ryan, one of four lead supervisors, works with Field Operations (the on-the-street operational arm of TriMet) to plan for and coordinate the events that will affect transit.
Planning for Rose Festival begins in January with TriMet operations staff determining where to allocate resources during the Starlight and Grand Floral parades, how to manage service when Portland’s bridges lift for fleet arrivals and how to best staff the emergency operations center set up for the parades.
During the events, Ryan is in contact with TriMet’s command center in Gresham, requesting resources such as trains for an area that needs capacity or dispatching any of TriMet’s 50 supervisors to locations where riders may need assistance.
“My job is to take care of the road and rail supervisors and provide them with the tools they need to do their jobs.”
He stays mobile during his shifts, lending support to his supervisors on the scene of an incident or helping make decisions at a moment’s notice. He also communicates regularly with Transit Police Division officers, TriMet’s contract security personnel and the agency’s customer service staff.
And for two action-packed weeks in June, Ryan’s big picture is Rose Festival and helping make sure all of TriMet’s preparations lead to smooth operations during Portland’s busiest time of year.