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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  • bloomsm

    A camera is only useful to find a suspect or prosecute someone after they have been caught. It doesn’t prevent violence in the first instance, and it’s not working as a deterrent.

    Cops on buses is a joke, a concept that Muni and civic leaders love to flog when the media reports on Muni violence. First, cops hate getting on buses because most cops hate getting out of their patrol cars (trust me on this one, my ex-girlfriend is an SFPD officer in the Mission).

    Second, there is an effective SFPD Muni “robbery abatement team” that does set stings on Muni. These incidents, however, don’t go very far in protecting against random acts of violence.

    Third, Muni drivers are “common carrier”; by state law, they owe the highest possible duty to their passengers. Muni drivers could not care less about passenger safety and usually refuse to get involved in any kind of incident.

    So, forget cameras on the Muni. Focus on either (1) a dedicated transit security force that rides the system exclusively, like BART; or (2) give drivers an SFPD panic button with GPS that notifies police where the bus is.

  • bloomsm

    A camera is only useful to find a suspect or prosecute someone after they have been caught. It doesn’t prevent violence in the first instance, and it’s not working as a deterrent.

    Cops on buses is a joke, a concept that Muni and civic leaders love to flog when the media reports on Muni violence. First, cops hate getting on buses because most cops hate getting out of their patrol cars (trust me on this one, my ex-girlfriend is an SFPD officer in the Mission).

    Second, there is an effective SFPD Muni “robbery abatement team” that does set stings on Muni. These incidents, however, don’t go very far in protecting against random acts of violence.

    Third, Muni drivers are “common carrier”; by state law, they owe the highest possible duty to their passengers. Muni drivers could not care less about passenger safety and usually refuse to get involved in any kind of incident.

    So, forget cameras on the Muni. Focus on either (1) a dedicated transit security force that rides the system exclusively, like BART; or (2) give drivers an SFPD panic button with GPS that notifies police where the bus is.

  • Wil

    The UK is littered with security cameras, and on average they “solve” one crime a year for every 1,000 cameras:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/6081549/One-crime-solved-for-every-1000-CCTV-cameras-senior-officer-claims.html

    If you think of security cameras as a trade-off between cost & privacy vs. security, they’re a pretty lousy one. Seeing as we get little-to-no security benefit, I say we rip them out and redirect the taxpayer money that goes into maintaining them towards something that actually works… and get rid of the 1984-esque constant surveillance in the meantime.

  • Wil

    The UK is littered with security cameras, and on average they “solve” one crime a year for every 1,000 cameras:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/6081549/One-crime-solved-for-every-1000-CCTV-cameras-senior-officer-claims.html

    If you think of security cameras as a trade-off between cost & privacy vs. security, they’re a pretty lousy one. Seeing as we get little-to-no security benefit, I say we rip them out and redirect the taxpayer money that goes into maintaining them towards something that actually works… and get rid of the 1984-esque constant surveillance in the meantime.

  • Alex Zepeda

    Couple things come to mind here:

    1.) I’ve been seeing more police officers (the ones with guns) on MUNI recently. Both wandering the subway station and on the trains and buses. Having cops on the vehicles is only as much of a joke as the cops make it. What’s the excuse for cops who are walking a beat? They don’t want to step off their sidewalks? Cops on transit vehicles goes pretty darn far in protecting against random acts of violence.

    2.) What’s this about a smart card system? I saw a post on SFGate or SFist (don’t remember which) that cops were using translink. Aside from intertia, and the absurdity that is a TL card history report, I can’t imagine what would keep the MTA from at least using TL to start to keep tabs on the cops.

    3.) MUNI drivers are supposed to call in fights and such. The two women going at it did not get called in. Judson True didn’t have a reason why or any indication of whether or not disciplinary action would be taken. That’d be nice to have an answer for.

    3b.) I was reading something a while back (probably around the time that thugs were disabling the hybrid buses) indicating that there are panic switches on all the vehicles for the drivers to hit. Except that they don’t work reliably and thus both drivers and dispatchers ignore them. Any word on whether or not this has been fixed or will be fixed?

    4.) Look through the daily service reports. People throwing shit at the buses is way, way too common. We ought to collar these twats and get them to clean the buses. No jail time, just cleaning the graffiti and other crap that accumulates on these buses and trains.

  • Alex Zepeda

    Couple things come to mind here:

    1.) I’ve been seeing more police officers (the ones with guns) on MUNI recently. Both wandering the subway station and on the trains and buses. Having cops on the vehicles is only as much of a joke as the cops make it. What’s the excuse for cops who are walking a beat? They don’t want to step off their sidewalks? Cops on transit vehicles goes pretty darn far in protecting against random acts of violence.

    2.) What’s this about a smart card system? I saw a post on SFGate or SFist (don’t remember which) that cops were using translink. Aside from intertia, and the absurdity that is a TL card history report, I can’t imagine what would keep the MTA from at least using TL to start to keep tabs on the cops.

    3.) MUNI drivers are supposed to call in fights and such. The two women going at it did not get called in. Judson True didn’t have a reason why or any indication of whether or not disciplinary action would be taken. That’d be nice to have an answer for.

    3b.) I was reading something a while back (probably around the time that thugs were disabling the hybrid buses) indicating that there are panic switches on all the vehicles for the drivers to hit. Except that they don’t work reliably and thus both drivers and dispatchers ignore them. Any word on whether or not this has been fixed or will be fixed?

    4.) Look through the daily service reports. People throwing shit at the buses is way, way too common. We ought to collar these twats and get them to clean the buses. No jail time, just cleaning the graffiti and other crap that accumulates on these buses and trains.

  • bloomsm

    @Alex: what it really comes down to is that most police are lazy and hateful about the bus assignment. Many are resentful at walking the beat at all; increased foot patrols were recommended in a study (“PERF”) and then mandated by Chief Fong. Cops I met hated PERF and hated walking anywhere. They don’t like it when it’s too hot, too cold, too sunny, or too foggy. They also resent having to ride a bus when nothing appears to be happening. They would prefer to answer calls from dispatch using patrol cars.

  • bloomsm

    @Alex: what it really comes down to is that most police are lazy and hateful about the bus assignment. Many are resentful at walking the beat at all; increased foot patrols were recommended in a study (“PERF”) and then mandated by Chief Fong. Cops I met hated PERF and hated walking anywhere. They don’t like it when it’s too hot, too cold, too sunny, or too foggy. They also resent having to ride a bus when nothing appears to be happening. They would prefer to answer calls from dispatch using patrol cars.

  • Alex Zepeda

    An MTA only police force wouldn’t solve this. Look at BART sites where riders complain that most BART cops are in their cars, and not on the trains. It’s a cultural thing.

    The police ought to be involved in the communities they represent. There are monthly community meetings at each police station. The last time I went was for a class assignment… the only non-classmates there were essentially your typical nosy neighbor types. If we as a community want more police presence on the buses, we’ve gotta prove it. Show up to the monthly meetings, show up to PR stunts that your district rep puts on, show up to the PR stunts that our mayor sniffles puts on, etc.

  • Alex Zepeda

    An MTA only police force wouldn’t solve this. Look at BART sites where riders complain that most BART cops are in their cars, and not on the trains. It’s a cultural thing.

    The police ought to be involved in the communities they represent. There are monthly community meetings at each police station. The last time I went was for a class assignment… the only non-classmates there were essentially your typical nosy neighbor types. If we as a community want more police presence on the buses, we’ve gotta prove it. Show up to the monthly meetings, show up to PR stunts that your district rep puts on, show up to the PR stunts that our mayor sniffles puts on, etc.

  • bloomsm

    I hear you Alex, but I am too cynical about the SFPD. I respect what they do, but the rank and file are stubborn about riding Muni and the command structure isn’t making it a priority.

  • bloomsm

    I hear you Alex, but I am too cynical about the SFPD. I respect what they do, but the rank and file are stubborn about riding Muni and the command structure isn’t making it a priority.

  • Greg Dewar

    There was a press conference with the MTA, the SFPD and Muni on this this afternoon, I’lll post some notes shortly, as will Streetsblog. You’ll also see some coverage on the local TV News.

    Interestingly enough, when I asked the question about the effect of many years of budget cuts, totalling the 100s of millions of dollars in the last 5 years on maintenance of cameras and such, the rest of the press people packed up their mikes and walked away.

    you can’t take money away from muni (locally by Gavin to give Muni money to other departments and line the pockets of his own staff, statewide by the Governor and Democrats, which though ruled illegal, still means the money was taken away) and expect stuff to work perfectly.

  • Greg Dewar

    There was a press conference with the MTA, the SFPD and Muni on this this afternoon, I’lll post some notes shortly, as will Streetsblog. You’ll also see some coverage on the local TV News.

    Interestingly enough, when I asked the question about the effect of many years of budget cuts, totalling the 100s of millions of dollars in the last 5 years on maintenance of cameras and such, the rest of the press people packed up their mikes and walked away.

    you can’t take money away from muni (locally by Gavin to give Muni money to other departments and line the pockets of his own staff, statewide by the Governor and Democrats, which though ruled illegal, still means the money was taken away) and expect stuff to work perfectly.