munitoken.jpgFirst there was the violent and unprovoked stabbing of 11-year-old Hatim Mansori earlier this September.

Then, the other day, there was the purported Norteno attack upon an 18-year-old actor with a poor fashion sense (the actor is set to star alongside Benjamen Bratt in the upcoming release “La Mission.”)

The attacks share something far more disturbing than their violent natures. In each case, a lack of video surveillance and a nonexistent police presence have inhibited the capture of the perpetrators.

A Lack of Surveillance

Though there were two cameras installed on board the 49 in which Matsori was stabbed, neither recorded the incident. A camera in the front of the bus captured the audio, but the camera in the back of the bus–one with a direct line of sight–was broken at the time.

MUNI has a total of 5,200 cameras, 1,000 video recorders, and 2,000 data packs installed aboard approximately 1,000 buses and trains. Despite the abundance of surveillance at their disposal, the cameras never seem to be working when they are needed most.

Readers might remember that no cameras aboard either streetcar involved in the West Portal collision last July were functional at the time of the crash.

The Examiner reported recently that police are stuck in the investigation of a September 26th, gang-related incident on the 14 due to lack of surveillance footage.

The horrific nature of Mansori’s stabbing has galvanized MUNI officials to address their perennial surveillance issues. Judson True did not give an exact scope of the problem, telling reporters that a significant number of nonfunctional cameras had been discovered. Recurring problems included damaged cables, broken recorders, and graffiti covered lenses. Officials planned to provided the MUNI governing board with an update of the situation on September 15th. The SFMTA’s website has yet to post minutes to confirm this presentation.

BART ordered a similar surveillance overhaul several years ago and saw their rate of malfunctioning cameras drop from 60 percent to 10 percent.

I sent an email to Judson True to check on the status of the cameras overhaul. I will keep you informed on his reply.

MUNI Blames Police.

Serious crime such as rape, robbery, and assault has dropped 13 percent citywide in the first half of 2009. Crime on MUNI has not decreased accordingly. There were 943 crimes reported for the fiscal year 2008-09, which is only 4 less than reported from the previous year.

Last May ABC7’s I-Team conducted an investigation into MUNI safety. The good news is that MUNI was able to provide the I-Team with adequate surveillance footage of criminal activity. The bad news is that of the 18 incidences reviewed, not a single arrest has been made. San Francisco supervisor Bevan Duffy believes that when it comes to MUNI patrol, the San Francisco Police Department is not doing its job.

According to a General Order issued in 2001 by former police chief Heather Fong, every officer assigned a patrol car must make two bus inspections of five blocks each per shift, and each officer with a foot beat must make four.

The evidence suggesting a limited police presence on the buses is largely anecdotal. MUNI operators and passengers told ABC7 that it is rare to actually see a uniformed officer riding the bus. Some even told reporters that instead of boarding the bus, police will just sit in squad cars and call in the number of passing buses. They call it “BIP fraud.”

MUNI executive director Nat Ford has considered instituting a smart card system that will track when and how long police officers are riding the buses. I sent an email to Judson True to confirm whether plans for smart cards (or any related technology) are still in the works. I will keep you posted on his reply.

I, too haven’t seen a heightened police presence on the bus. However, this could be less attributed to a dereliction of duty, and more related to enforcement strategy. If a police officer only has to ride the bus for five minutes, than it stands to reason that a perpetrator would just wait until the officer deboards to commit a crime.

This is the thinking behind “Operation Safe MUNI,” the SFPD’s response to the Mansori stabbing. Operation Safe MUNI is a sting operation that the San Francisco Police Department hopes will deter violent crime and fare evasion.

The first sting involved six officers, one sergeant, and one lieutenant in a crackdown on the 14, 49, and 9x. In the five and a half hour period police issued 22 citations for minor offenses, including illegal boarding, alcohol possession. The pilot run did not result in any arrests for assaults or robberies, but that does not mean that a continued undercover presence won’t have an affect on the number of violent crimes.

I sent an email to Sgt. Lyn Tomioka to see if The San Francisco Police Department planned to continue the sting operations in the future. I will keep you posted on her reply.

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