Video surveillance onboard Muni vehicles and social media have played a key role in recent arrests of suspects committing crimes and harassing Muni passengers, transit officials said Tuesday at the Chinatown-Rose Pak station during a media roundtable.
The City’s Director of Transportation Jeffrey Tumlin sent this message to anyone thinking of committing crimes onboard Muni vehicles:
“Anyone thinking about committing a crime on Muni will be caught. This is exactly what happened to the suspect who repeatedly assaulted many passengers targeting Asian women and at least one LGBTQ victim.”
Several high-profile crimes have occurred on Muni vehicles in recent months, including on Feb. 16 when a 44-year-old male allegedly made racial remarks to an Asian female passenger and then proceeded to throw eggs at a bystander who tried to intervene.
Police announced the arrest of Joseph Benjamin on April 20 with prosecutors charging Benjamin with hate crimes and four counts of battery. Benjamin was released under supervision and was told to stay away from the victims as well as the 38-Geary bus routes.
SFPD Cmdr. Julian Ng said at the media roundtable that based on the initial investigation of the Feb. 16 incident, police identified two other incidents involving the same suspect.
Police said Benjamin was involved in an incident on Feb. 13 where he allegedly assaulted an Asian Muni operator, spat on passengers and used hateful language.
In February, police said they also contacted another Muni passenger who they said had encountered Benjamin after seeing a social media post. The victim, an Asian female passenger, told police that the suspect last December made derogatory remarks about her ethnicity and gender and then threw food at her as well.
Social media played a role in the Feb. 16 incident. New York-based author Michelle Young was onboard the 38 and was on the receiving end of the hate speech by Benjamin.
Kimberly Burrus, the SFMTA’s chief security officer, said video surveillance has helped aid the San Francisco Police Department in the recent arrests of suspects committing crimes on Muni vehicles:
“It is our partnership with the Police Department that has yielded a lot of the success that we’ve had with closing cases of crime on our system.”
Muni vehicles have at least 11 security cameras onboard as well dozens of security cameras inside subway stations, including 60 to 100 security cameras within the new Central Subway stations, Burrus said.
On top of security cameras, Burrus said the SFMTA has 30 transit ambassadors onboard Muni vehicles who are trained in de-escalation techniques as well as being able to contact police if necessary. Guards assigned to Muni subway stations and fare inspectors also play a role in keeping transit stations safe, she added:
“We are committed to providing safety on our transit system.”
Muni lines with security incidents have typically included the 5-Fulton, 38 and 49-Van Ness/Mission routes, Burrus said, but added that the patterns “ebb and flows.”
Transit officials are informing Muni passengers that they should tell the operator if a crime does occur on a Muni vehicle. Burris said operators can contact the agency’s Transit Management Center who can then request for emergency services to the location of the vehicle. Passengers should also dial 9-1-1 for life-threatening situations.
Muni passengers can now report gender-based harassment as well any other incidents or complaints through the Muni feedback form or by calling 3-1-1, transit officials said.
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. He covers transportation and City Hall. He has spent over a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Jerold is a native in the city and frequently takes public transit everywhere he goes. Email tips to [email protected]