Police believe it is good policy for anti-terrorism enforcement to include patrolling public transit for fare evaders, according to the department's former top transit officer.
Last week, The San Francisco Examiner reported that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni, uses funding from federal anti-terrorism grants to pay for fare evasion enforcement, via a group called the Muni Task Force.
The Police Department's former top transit cop told The Examiner that such efforts are in line with the intent of federal funding aimed at antiterrorism tactics.
“When we talk about criminal actors, a person about to commit a robbery on a Muni coach is typically not paying their fare,” Cmdr. Mikail Ali said. “Fare evasion is the nexus by which we make those initial contacts [with criminals].”
Fare-evasion enforcement is a way to catching more serious criminals, Ali said, “who in some cases possess firearms while on Muni coaches.”
Increased police presence is a deterrent to acts of terrorism, he said. “That's a good thing.”
In essence, terrorists could be more likely to be fare cheats.
“In a nutshell, the priority is safety on Muni, safety on our coaches, safety in our stations,” Ali said. “How do we accomplish that? We are proactive.”
The Muni Task Force is a group of seven police officers and one sergeant, operating on overtime. It was formed to prevent terrorism and crime on Muni buses. The SFMTA pays for the unit through a $1.7 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.
In making a case for the federal grant, the SFMTA explicitly wrote to the federal government that the Muni Task Force would prevent robberies, violent crime and terrorism.
The grants never stated officers would catch fare cheats.
Homeland Security representatives told The Examiner that extracurricular use of the funds may be legal if the Police Department says catching fare cheats is an anti-terror tactic, and if no one openly complains about the practice.
Ali was the former head of the transportation division of the SFPD. He was reassigned to the San Francisco International Airport division two weeks ago.
Fare enforcement has drawn controversy over the years, as local nonprofits have decried the practice as criminalizing poverty.
“Are we going after poor people? Are we going after underserved communities?” Ali said. “Here's the reality: We all have to pay our way. You have a responsibility to pay your fare. If you don't, that's a problem.”
Fare enforcement, Ali said, “is not to punish people, it's a means of reducing crime as a means of attacking terrorism.”