Muni pickpockets beware: Eyes of SFPD are on you

Holiday commuters who don’t watch their wallets and purses on Muni may have someone else watching it for them. Whether that’s a police officer or a pickpocket could depend on which Muni line they are riding.

The Muni Response Team is a group of officers dedicated solely to fighting crime on The City’s public transportation system, according to police spokesman Sgt. Steve Mannina.

During the holidays, the tactical unit trains officers at three downtown district stations —Tenderloin, Central and Southern — to have extrapresence in the most vulnerable areas. Many of those are plainclothesmen riding buses and watching for the swift swipe.

Those areas include Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square and other tourist hot spots. Muni lines that go through those areas are especially vulnerable because commuters are packed in tight and there’s a lot of movement. Two of the most common routes used by thieves are the 38-Geary and the 30-Stockton, Mannina said.

Muni spokesman Alan Siegel said Muni’s privately contracted security company is unable to deal with pickpockets swiftly.

“King Security service does not have arrest powers and they’re not trained to deal with pickpockets,” Siegel said. “Everybody keeps an eye out, but not everybody has police powers.”

King Security, which just obtained a three-year, $17.1 million contract from The City on Tuesday, dispatches armed and unarmed guards. They must report incidents to the Muni control center, which then passes word to the police.

“The security contract doesn’t just include surveillance,” Siegel said. “Security mainly guards our facilities and infrastructure.”

There were 118 reports of pickpockets in 2006 between Thanksgiving and the end of December, according to Mannina. All last year, there were 1,552 reports of pockets picked in The City, he said.

Many of those were on Muni, Mannina said, but they also include incidents in restaurants, usually when someone keeps a purse hanging from a chair, and in crowded areas, when a thief brushes by a victim.

So far in 2007, police have seen a drop in the total number of pickpocket crimes, with867 reported to date, he said.

Captain James Dudley, whose station oversees Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach and Union Square, said the best way to avoid pickpockets is to be smart and cautious.

“It isn’t so much the area, but accessibility of distracted people to suspects,” he said. “The suspect will always take the path of least resistance.”

bbegin@examiner.com

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