MTA chief does the right thing
Paul J. Wiedefeld had a difficult decision to make Wednesday. The Maryland Transit Administration chief took about a half hour to think it over and then he did the right thing.
Confronted with the reality that the family of the two boys killed in Sunday's accident had lost confidence in the the MTA Police, he decided to turn over control of the investigation to the Baltimore County police. It was a good call -- and one many government officials would have resisted out of a reflexive urge to protect their turf and defend their agency.
My take is that Wiedefeld understood that no investigation could be successful without the cooperation of the dead boys' parents. The MTA police, for whatever reason, got off on the wrong foot with them. It was a no-win situation for the MTA, and Wiedefeld recognized that. There was no need for a prolonged public struggle with the bereaved parents, and Wiedefeld headed off a problem that could have ended up on the desk of the acting transportation secretary or the governor.
That's called earning your pay.
I'm sure this is a disappointment for the MTA police. Most folks haven't heard about it, but it is a real police department with sworn officers who carry guns and go through training much like that the state police have to pass. But many in the public, when they learn the MTA has a police force, see a conflict of interest. It may not be real, but the perception is that they will act to protect the MTA first and worry about the facts later. In a hot-potato case like this, a pragmatic, professional MTA head who recognizes the problem serves the state well.
In a high-profile case such as this, it's also good to have the experienced, professional public affairs team at the Baltimore County Police Department on the job. The MTA public affairs staff does a fine job with transit issues, but it has become clear there was a disconnect between the MTA police and the people at the MTA whose job is to keep the public informed.
Wiedefeld, an experienced public administrator with a strong track record from his time as BWI chief, clearly has a challenge on his plate getting these two parts of his organization working in tandem.
Long term, it would seem to make sense to re-examine whether it makes sense to have separate police departments for the Maryland Transportation Authority and the MTA. And the legislature should ask whether these forces should report to the secretary of transportation or the superintendent of state police.
I'm not making a judgment here, but it's a debate worth having.