SFPD Conducting First Citywide “Operation Safe Muni” Sting Today

IMG_0555.jpgIngleside Captain David Lazar briefs officers and the media on Operation Safe Muni today. Photo: Michael Rhodes

For years, spotting a police officer on Muni has been about as likely as winning the lottery, even though officers are required to ride transit vehicles twice per shift. As a result, fare evasion, tagging, eating, and other violations are rampant on the city’s transit system, and crime on Muni hasn’t declined in recent months even as it’s gone down across the city. So, as the San Francisco Police Department sent dozens of uniformed and plainclothes officers onto Muni en masse today, Ingleside Cpt. David Lazar said it shouldn’t be hard to hit the jackpot when it comes to finding violators.

"I think it’s going to come as a very big surprise to people who get away with eating or fare evasion on a daily basis," Lazar said during a lunchtime briefing at Tenderloin Station. Immediately after the briefing, officers set out on a citywide sting to find violators of all types. It’s all part of Operation Safe Muni, a program Lazar started in the Ingleside District in September after several high-profile attacks on Muni, and reports of widespread fare evasion and theft.

After two Operation Safe Muni stings in Ingleside were deemed successful, SFPD decided to launch today’s citywide sting and evaluate the results. "It’s a zero tolerance approach to crime on Muni," said Lazar, who recently became captain of Ingleside Station and made news earlier this year when he ordered stings on drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians.

IMG_0559.jpgSupervisor Bevan Dufty speaks outside Tenderloin Station after the briefing today. Photo: Michael Rhodes

During the briefing, which was attended by police officers and reporters, Lazar told officers to focus on Muni lines with the highest concentration of problems. "Don’t just ride a bus whenever you feel like it, ride the bus when all the action’s happening," he said. "You know where crime happens. Pick your high commute times."

Kristen Holland, a spokesperson for the MTA, said the agency welcomes the SFPD’s efforts. "We’re certainly very pleased to be working with them and seeing this cooperative, collaborative effort put in place. Hopefully it will be successful."

The question, of course, is whether one day of high-profile stings will make a difference. Supervisor Bevan Dufty said he’ll be watching closely to see if SFPD follows up. "I think I can speak for Muni riders who are happy to hear today that police officers are in fact going to be riding the lines that are having the most problems. I think that’s a smart way to focus resources," said Dufty. "But I’m going to continue to ask the public to let me know that they see these officers riding."

Dufty added, "My message to the new police chief is, the best thing you can do is have officers visibly riding the system. It helps prevent crime, it helps make it a more pleasant experience, and it’s going to avoid fare evasions."

The MTA pays the SFPD for its officers to ride Muni regularly, but, at least until recently, the agency hasn’t been getting its money worth. The SFPD’s Bus Inspection Program requires each sergeant in a patrol division and each officer "assigned to a radio car" to make two transit inspections per shift, and officers on foot patrol are required to make at least four inspections per shift. In spite of that rule, Muni riders have reported rarely seeing officers on Muni vehicles. SFPD is now testing a program to track officers’ Muni rides by requiring them to tag TransLink cards as they board and exit vehicles.

Dufty is holding a hearing on November 23 with the new SFPD deputy chief in charge of safety operations on Muni, John Murphy, which he hopes will provide insight into how that program is going. "We’ve had commitments made before and I have not seen officers visible on Muni," Dufty noted.

After a day of riding buses and writing citations, officers involved in Operation Safe Muni will meet later in the evening to debrief, according to Sgt. Wilfred Williams, an SFPD spokesperson. By tomorrow morning, said Williams, SFPD will provide an update on how the operation went, and then determine whether more stings will be carried out.

SFPD plans to announce each operation, but will broadcasting it in advance undermine the department’s efforts?

As Lazar told Streetsblog about his station’s pedestrian sting this summer, probably not. "You could do a big announcement right now and we’re still going to write a hundred citations," Lazar said at the time. He was referring to drivers not stopping for pedestrians, but the same may prove equally true for bad behavior on Muni, where a police officer is still the last thing most riders expect to see.

  • Nick

    Mayor Newsom could do well to learn from Supervisor Dufty here (who appears more mayoral-like than the actual Mayor). If you walk the streets, ride MUNI, or bike you’ll find that all of a sudden you are connecting with the people you represent.

  • zsolt

    More, more more!

    It’s sort of sad that getting the police to actually do their job is such a big deal, but I like this. I live in Lazar’s district which truly is ground zero for Muni crime.

  • First off, Captain Lazar is awesome … the youngest Captain, and the guy is just incredibly organized and passionate about his job. Ingleside is lucky to have him …

    Glad to hear they’re stepping up MUNI enforcement, hopefully on bus lines and not just the MUNI metro between Embarcadero and Civic Center.

  • i think it’s pretty funny that you can’t even pay people to ride the bus. but then again, even our rail systems are horrific.

  • AlexJB

    Does anyone else find it amusing that eating is the first offense mentioned, with tagging the second?

    Am I the only one who thinks that writing a citation for someone having a coffee and bagel on the bus would be kinda silly? I don’t even care about the picnic lunch described over on muni diaries, as long as the person took their trash with them…

    Tagging is at least causing some kind of lasting ‘damage’ (especially the scraping the windows), but I’m personally much more interested in use of Translink to make sure that cops are actually riding the buses periodically. It’s their periodic presence over a longer period of time that’s going to cut down on fights and pickpocketing.

  • patrick

    I think it’s a good idea to enforce every rule. It’s the same strategy they used to fix the crime problems on the NY subway system.

    If you let the small stuff slide, it sends the message that enforcement doesn’t happen.

    Plus, tagging and spilled food make the bus experience unpleasant for everybody, and costs us all in more cleaning and maintenance expenses.

  • zsolt

    Whoops, I first posted this in the wrong post:

    Reading other websites such as SFGate on the Muni sting, it is remarkable how much people are in favor and welcome this. Mind you, the same people would have their panties in a bumch if the city would take comparable action against motorists. The double standard is striking.

    @AlexJB: ever took the 14 in Lazar’s district? The back of the bus is routinely soiled with chicken bones and fast food packaging. It is really, really bad. But heck if it was up to me, the police would also cite people who clip their nails on transit!

  • patrick

    They busted 6 people with outstanding felony warrants, one of them an unregistered sex offender. Had they not been going after the little stuff they wouldn’t have caught those people.

  • BSR

    I snapped a photo yesterday of a MUNI bus barreling down the wrong way on Bryant St. trying to make a shortcut from the Embarcadero to 2nd street. If any car was trying to get on the Bay Bridge via the carpool lane on Bryant, they would have been crushed by this bus driver. Let me know where I can send the photo if anyone is still reporting on MUNI violations.

  • star dalyah

    Hi im an highschool student me and a couple of my friend’s ride the 22 alot to go to school.There are a couple of bus driver’s that look at us up and down,move their mirrow so they can have it pointing straight at us.Also it’s an african american male bus driver who always ask “who’s your dad” , “i think i know him” is his name blah,blah,blah … so im wondering where can i report this (anyone know’s) please help because i feel very unsafe..

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