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Video, audio surveillance helps fight crime on Muni

Crime on Muni is seeing a downward trend thanks to an increase police presence on buses and trains and surveillance on vehicles capturing crimes occurring on the transit system.

Supervisors Sandra Lee Fewer and Catherine Stefani held a hearing at the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee to discuss hearing from riders, especially women passengers, not feeling safe on Muni and safety for Muni operators.

Stefani said:

“Our residents rely on this network to go about their daily lives commuting between work, home, school, running errands. All of this requires safe access to our transportation system and right now, we know at least anecdotally, many people do not feel safe using our transit.”

Chris Grabarkiewctz, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s director of security, investigations and enforcement, shared some good news that overall crime was down in the last from fiscal year from 1,342 cases to 1,217 cases.

Assaults were down from 127 to 72 from the last fiscal year and robberies were down 179 to 137.

Thefts remained high at 666 reported thefts compared to 611 from last year.

Grabarkiewctz said the lower crime figures in part credited to working with the Police Department and using data  to decide which Muni lines to deploy police officers:

“We work in very close collaboration with the Police Department to analyze both the data they provide to use and that we provide to them regarding criminal and non-criminal security type incidents in the transit system.”

The SFMTA has a Muni Response Team that includes seven uniformed police officers and a Muni Task Force with seven plain clothed police officers.

Commander Teresa Ewins oversees the police operations for the SFMTA.

Police officers have logged more than 13,000 hours on Muni, said Grabarkiewctz.

Part of the funding for some of extra police presence had come from a federal grant from the Department of Homeland Security, though, this year, the SFMTA did not receive a grant.

Despite not receiving the grant, Grabarkiewctz said the transit agency has been able to fund the extra police presence through its own budget.

Video surveillance has also helped play a role in capturing crime as it happens which the Police Department can use to investigate an incident and the District Attorney’s Office to possibly prosecute.

Ewins said the police and investigators with the district attorney have had great success with the video surveillance on Muni vehicles, especially since you can also hear what is being said in the video:

“It’s a huge game changer when you talk about catching suspects especially with their intention and what they’re saying.”

Transit officials also addressed operator assaults and said they are working installing enclosures on all its buses to protect operators, said Julie Kirschbaum with the SFMTA’s Transit Division.

About 90 percent of buses have the enclosures, said Kirshbaum.

Stefani asked if it was true that SFMTA management encourages operators to not report assaults, as reported in the San Francisco Examiner, which spoke with Muni operators about safety issues.

Kirschbaum said:

“That is absolutely not true. We take every assault extremely seriously.”

Kirschbaum added:

“That is an unfortunate reality that we’re facing. It is a national epidemic in terms of operator assaults and it’s something that we respond to immediately. In no circumstances do we attempt to suppress.”

She said unfortunately there have been a number of incidents of Muni operators being spat on and encourages operators to report any verbal and physical assaults.

Supervisors did want to see more data about whether women feel safe on Muni and requested more data from the SFMTA and SFPD ,but felt the data provided at the hearing was sufficient and filed the hearing.

The SFMTA conducts an annual customer rider survey, which includes a question about safety but does not specify answers by gender.

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