SFPD Promises Smarter Approach to Enforcement on Muni

IMG_0649.jpgJohn Murphy, the SFPD deputy chief in charge of safety operations on Muni. Photo: Michael Rhodes

Police enforcement on Muni is getting a major overhaul after years of inconsistent officer deployment. Under a revised Memorandum of Understanding between the Police Department and the Metropolitan Transportation Agency, officers will be required to ride lines that most frequently have problems with crime. Station captains will now regularly present Muni crime statistics for their districts at Comstat meetings, where they will be grilled on why crime has increased or decreased.

In his sixth day on the job, SFPD deputy chief in charge of safety operations on Muni John Murphy presented the plan at a two-hour hearing on Muni safety at a Board of Supervisors committee meeting today. Murphy said that district captains are now required to develop statistic-driven monthly plans for targeting crime on Muni. "Starting from today forward, crime is going to be addressed in a different way," said Murphy. "As opposed to having officers randomly get on buses of their own choice, the onus is going to be on the district station captains."

"We’re going to mirror the zone enforcement that we’ve used over the last 20 months in San Francisco. We’re going to use crime statistics, community input, and drivers’ complaints and concerns."

In the past, many officers skipped out on their requirement to ride Muni during each shift, as stipulated by the Bus Inspection Program. By some accounts, that issue persists now, even among officers who are required to tag on and off with TransLink cards that track their ridership: Muni customers have reported seeing officers tag multiple cards. Murphy said a major part of his job will be making sure officers are actually riding when they’re supposed to.

While the hearing was billed partially as an update on the SFPD TransLink pilot, little information was provided on officer compliance with the program. On Friday, Sgt. Wilfred Williams, an SFPD spokesperson, said that issues with the software were still being resolved, since TransLink readers were designed to deduct fares, not track officers.

munitranslink.jpgPreliminary SFPD TransLink data shows that officers are not riding where they’re needed the most. Muni incidents, January-August 2009. Time spent on Muni by officers tracked by TransLink cards, September-October 2009. Source: SFPD

Of course, with captains now directly reporting on Muni crime statistics in their district, there may be more pressure on them to actively enforce the Bus Inspection Program requirements among their officers.

Captain David Lazar, head of Ingleside Station, said new route by route statistics for Muni crime will make it much easier to effectively deploy his officers. "This is great data," said Lazar. "In the years I’ve been in the police department, we’ve never had a document like this," referring to a set of charts that outlined crime statistics by type, location, bus line, and hour in the Ingleside District.

"No longer is it acceptable for me as a captain to tell police officers to just ride when they want to ride. It’s important for me to give them data," said Lazar, who implemented SFPD’s first "Operation Safe Muni" sting in his district.

Murphy described the first citywide "Operation Safe Muni" sting on November 4th as "pretty successful," and called for further targeted enforcement operations. "What this pilot program shows is that there is a need for enforcement," said Murphy. "This needs to be continually and covertly."

At the beginning of the hearing, which was called by Supervisor Bevan Dufty, several Muni riders told stories of experiencing and witnessing violent attacks and robberies on the city’s transit system. One rider, Tim Bishop, said he was attacked in January on a T-Third line vehicle by youths who were shouting anti-gay epithets. When he confronted them, he was beaten unconscious and repeatedly kicked in the head.

Several people expressed frustration that Muni operators didn’t intervene or respond to attacks and robberies. Union president Irwin Lum said drivers are overtaxed and have little recourse. "Often times, our operators are under tremendous pressure not just to operate the vehicles but to manage what goes on in the vehicles," said Lum. "The most we are expected to do is call Central Control when there’s an incident on our vehicles."

Dufty appeared mostly satisfied with SFPD’s plan. "I appreciate that this is a new responsibility for you and that … you’ve got a commitment to making this a more directed program, and making it more successful," Dufty told Murphy. "I’m going to ask you to continue this and come back and hear some progress in the next few months."

  • Dufty thinks it’s a new responsibility for SFPD to protect and serve Muni riders? You have got to be kidding!

  • Nick

    “Under a revised Memorandum of Understanding between the Police Department and the Metropolitan Transportation Agency, officers will be required to ride lines that most frequently have problems with crime.”

    As I understand it, an MOU has a mandatory expiration date (with the option of either extending the agreement or letting it expire). Is this just a 3 month PR stunt or is the City serious about making MUNI safe?

  • John Thomas

    Muni already has Security employees on their payroll. What are these guys doing to earn their pay? Taxpayers are carrying the load for this broken and seemingly unfixable system.
    1-Privatize it as other cities have done.
    2-Cut the waste. Bring quality leadership and training to the system and demand quality service from employees.
    3-Get rid of problem Muni employees.
    4-Hire a dedicated, trained and professional transit securty force, as Muni had in the 70’s.
    5-And last: PROSECUTE crimes associated with Muni (Did you read this Kamala Harris?)

  • I’m not sure that privatizing MUNI would solve any problems. Private entities are just as bureaucratic and wasteful as any public one and the ability of the marketplace to solve problems has recently been shown to be a falacy, witness the Wall Street meltdown and resulting miasma we find ourselves in.

    It does seem that MUNI security is a huge problem and the SFPD has neither the will nor the resources to deal with it. I ride MUNI everyday and certainly I would feel safer knowing there was a full time, dedicated security service available. Even if they didn’t ride every bus just having someone the operator could call would be a huge help.

    I’m not sure how much waste really exsists but the operators must be trained to understand that their’s is a customer service position and the passengers are their whole reason for being.

    Major thoroughfares such as Geary need to have dedicated bus lanes.

    Railed systems are inefficient and wasteful, they are too difficult to re-route and when one train goes down it affects the entire system.

    MUNI needs to update it’s busses. Given the amount of abuse these buses are subjected to it really is amazing that they run as well as they do, but really, would it be too difficult to make a comfortable bus?

    Finally, the whole problem comes down to economy of scale. The nine bay area counties should combine into one mass transit system so that you can ride from Sonoma to Gilroy without changing systems. The cash infusion would allow for a decent and deciated police force, shifting of resources where needed and local control that would allow citizens sufficient input to control “their” transit systems.

  • zsolt

    The marketplace can well solve some problems, Wall Street’s problems where elsewhere (dismantling of oversight etc).

    Privatizing would at least put the system under much more of a pressure to perform and to take RESPONSIBILITY. I don’t like the lawsuit culture, but the potential for litigation and without an easy way to get bailed out by the city, I imagine safety would dramatically increase. Cameras would suddenly start working, operators would suddenly start reacting to incidents on the bus. At the same time the system would take serious steps to end fare jumping, as no private entity likes to give away money. Muni operators would have to make do with this thing called accountability (as they have close to zero right now) and could get away with way less acting out.

    All that said, privatization is a complex issue and I hesitate to come down in favor of either side.

    All I have to really say about Muni is that while as a livability advocate it pains me to say this, but I truthfully really and absolutely despise Muni and I’m thankful every day that I don’t have to rely on it. This filthy monstrosity it is a farce at best and a dangerous proposition at worst where you can get stabbed for your cellphone – note, I live in Ingleside, where 3 of the top 5 lines in the chart have most of their “incidents” happen. I encourage all of you to come down to our area and ride the bus for a little to see the REAL state Muni is in.

  • EL

    “Cutting the waste” sounds good on paper. But when the TEP recommends truncating the #39 due to low ridership, MTA Board and residents say no. When the TEP recommends deleting the #66, MTA Board and residents say no. Did I mention that the #39 and #66 have a combined daily ridership of 1,200 passengers while the #26 (which is axed next week) carries 3,000 passengers?

    If the system were privatized, all 3 lines would have been long gone.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    So how’s the Willie-Gavin-Bevan mayoral puppet succession plan coming along anyway?

  • EL, finally someone with a grasp of reality. People get pretty selfish that show up at those 2pm meetings, and the rank and file who really benefit are at work.

    Truth is is that a fully privatized system (like London) would make MUNI very expensive (last time I checked a daily travel card was about 8.40L or about 16 bucks). First Capital Connect makes all the money, yet still puts London taxpayers on the hook for maintaining the tracks.

    A dedicated police force made sense in the violent 70’s but I think SFPD should earn its ridiculous work order money and ride the bus.

  • zsolt

    Muni IS very expensive. It’s okay for the ticket to be expensive after privatization, as long as those with hardship get subsidized by the city, for example.

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