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D.C. bill targets gropers and flashers on Metro

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DC,Transportation,Liz Farmer

The District is considering a law that would make it easier for city police to arrest accused flashers and masturbators after an uproar over the frequency with which public transit riders say they are sexually harassed while using the system.

The legislation, proposed by D.C. Councilwoman Muriel Bowser, lowers the standard for police to arrest someone for indecent exposure and brings it in line with the standard in Maryland and Virginia. Proposed Tuesday by the Ward 4 legislator, who also serves on Metro's board of directors, the bill would allow officers to arrest someone based on probable cause, meaning cops can respond to a call and make an arrest if there's enough circumstantial evidence.

"This closes a gap in the law [that] requires police to actually witness it," Bowser told The Washington Examiner.

Anti-harassment reporting
> Metro's ad campaign encouraging riders to report harassment officially started this month, but it's been collecting reports since March 9. During the past six weeks, the agency has recorded 16 reports of sexual-related crimes and 12 reports of harassment.
> To report an incident, contact 202-962-2121 or harassment@wmata.com, or visit wmata.com/harassment.

Currently, police have to obtain a warrant -- which can take days -- to arrest someone accused of indecent exposure unless the officer actually witnesses the person in the act. The process makes it difficult and often unlikely that police will catch up to a suspected perpetrator.

"We are so hamstrung at this point," said police union President Kris Baumann. "What few laws have not been watered down to being meaningless are very difficult to enforce. Imagine going through a traumatic event ... and coming to a police officer with it and he's saying, 'There's nothing I can do now.' "

The bill is a response to a push by Collective Action for Safe Spaces, which has been collecting reports for nearly three years on harassment in public places.

In 2011, 30 percent of the 213 experiences reported to the group's website were Metro-related. The incidents run the gamut from unwanted catcalls to flashing and even rape, according to Chai Shenoy, the group's co-founder.

"People are in close proximity to one another, it's easy to escape, it's easy to get lost in the crowd," Shenoy said. "It's hard to arrest people in the Metro because there [aren't] police all around."

This month, Metro started a public awareness campaign to encourage reporting lewd incidents. Up until then, the agency hadn't tracked those cases in its crime statistics. Since Metro created a portal for reporting such cases on March 9, the agency has received 28 reports of either sexual-related crimes or harassment, said agency spokesman Dan Stessel.

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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