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'You need armed personnel on MetroLink' | St. Louis Sheriff says more needs to be done to keep riders safe

"If we were there Sunday at that incident, I strongly believe that wouldn't have happened," said one of Sheriff Betts' deputies

ST. LOUIS — As more information comes to light about the shooting death of MetroLink security guard James Cook, loved ones and community members are asking why he was unarmed.

"I feel like he would have had half a chance had he had his weapon," said Tracy Nichols, Cooks' mother.

St. Louis Sheriff Vernon Betts seems to agree.

"You need armed personnel on MetroLink," said Sheriff Betts. "I don't know who came up with the idea that you didn't need armed guards on MetroLink. MetroLink runs through one of the most dangerous cities in America, St. Louis."

Witnesses say Cook had just gotten off a Metro train when he approached Nathanial Maurice Smith about a disturbance.

The conversation went south quickly and Smith reportedly became more confrontational and threatened Cook. The unarmed security guard who spent time in the Marines took a step back from the suspect and reached for mace, that's when he was shot multiple times including in the face.

"If we were there Sunday at that incident I strongly believe that wouldn't have happened," said one of Betts' deputies.

Sheriff Betts said his department has a relatively new partnership with MetroLink. The problem, they're not always on duty leaving security guards at risk.

“He should’ve been given orders that they do not approach people by themselves," Betts said. "These people on MetroLink know they don’t have anything besides a mace, so they can get belligerent anytime they get ready.”

Kevin Scott is the general manager of field security at Metro Transit.
He says in addition to part-time deputies, the system has full-time law enforcement officers assigned to Metro Transit. 

It's for the safety of riders the decision to use deadly force should be left to officers.

"That deadly force capability is placed in the most qualified hands where the training is specific to making those decisions, that's what's important," Scott said. "The standard of deadly force is very high, you know that the decision to deploy deadly force, you can't take that back, period."

Their statistics show crimes like this only account for one percent of overall ridership, but Betts said it's not enough

"I would like to see if I had it my way I would add more deputies to that MetroLink system," said Betts.

He's calling for not only MetroLink but also Mayor Lyda Krewson and the City's Public Safety Department to rebuild the system's reputation.

"If they don't make some wiser decisions for the safety of everybody, not just the riders, the safety of people working there too, I may end up pulling my deputies off that detail all together," said Betts.

5 On Your Side reached out to the mayor's office as well as the department of public safety about this.

The mayor's office called the deadly shooting heartbreaking and senseless. With respect to security on the Metro Transit system, her office pointed to the joint plan signed last year after years of studying the issue.

The public safety department has not responded as of this writing.