Patrols by police and unarmed ambassadors may have contributed to a reported decrease in crime on Muni trains and buses.

Patrols by police and unarmed ambassadors may have contributed to a reported decrease in crime on Muni trains and buses.

Muni reports sharp drop in crime

Agency attributes improvement to engineering changes, increased surveillance and patrols

Crime aboard Muni is down.

New crime data shows a precipitous 48 percent drop in reported crime aboard Muni vehicles from 2014 to 2018, and a continued downward trend from last year to this year. Law enforcement officials will present the data next Tuesday at a regular meeting to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors.

The improvement stands as a startling contrast to BART, where crime is up — particularly in San Francisco — and the agency is struggling to respond to high-profile assaults including a fatal stabbing earlier this month. The difference is even more striking considering that BART has 411,000 daily rider trips to Muni’s 720,000 daily rider trips.

Muni officials attribute the improvements to a combination of engineering changes to Muni buses and trains (including a plastic barrier between operators and the public) and stepped-up surveillance and other measures, according to Muni law enforcement officials.

And that’s just the start of safety improvements for Muni, said Glenn Mar, SFMTA’s acting chief security officer.

Muni grows safer

San Francisco Police Department officers are going to patrol Muni buses and trains more often — up to three days a week — but additionally, SFMTA may soon consider expanding its unarmed ambassador staff, which is called the Muni Transit Assistance Program, or MTAP.

That program helps former offenders find employment as peacekeepers on Muni buses and trains near San Francisco schools that are known for rowdy student transit riders. It has shown promise, and may be expanded to help the general public, Mar said.

“You don’t necessarily need an armed officer to help with safety and security on the bus,” Mar said. “They can talk to people doing unruly behavior, and ask them to discontinue what they’re doing and ask them to leave the bus. That helps.”

And Mar knows policing intimately — he’s a retired SFPD acting captain who was in charge of special operations and tactical units.

More police and unarmed ambassadors may also help Muni with operator retention, an SFMTA spokesperson said, particularly after operators have complained about assaults against them on board Muni vehicles.

For now, SFMTA’s crime data is showing a downward trend. In 2014 Muni riders reported 2,236 security incidents to police, mostly graffiti and vandalism, but also assaults, thefts and arson. Crimes aboard Muni buses and trains have continued a steady drop into 2018, with just 1,145 crimes reported.

While 2019 is not yet over, the trend suggests the crime rate will again drop. For the first six months of 2019 Muni riders reported just 461 incidents to police, according to SFMTA data.

“We hear a lot from riders about safety concerns, to see the numbers come down is refreshing,” Cat Carter, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Transit Riders, an advocacy group, told the Examiner.

BART, by contrast, has seen crime onboard its trains increase by 13 percent from September 2018 to 2019, the most recent month available. Violent crime, in particular, is up, including robberies and aggravated assaults.

While crime aboard BART fluctuates depending on what county a train happens to be running through, or what station you look at, BART crime in San Francisco is up by 38 percent from September 2018 to 2019, including a 41 percent increase in property crime.

While Muni’s crime data is certainly rosier, a perception of Muni being unsafe persists, Carter said. “I’m interested to see what happens under new leadership” to improve that, she said.

And while SFMTA’s newly appointed director, Jeffrey Tumlin, starts work in December, that month will also see SFMTA bring on a new chief security officer, Kimberly Burrus.

New top cop

Muni’s new top cop hails from Baltimore, Maryland, where Burrus served 22 years with the Baltimore Police Department.

Burrus’ most recent role saw her managing a department in charge of youth outreach, but she also spent years as a beat cop and managed a $1 million annual budget, she told the Examiner. Baltimore police worked hand-in-hand with youth who were part of a rise in crime.

“We take youth and the officers teach the individuals the six tenets on how to be a good citizen, how to be respectful, and how to move forward and de-escalate a situation,” she said by phone on Tuesday.

Knowing how to impart good behavior may be a needed skill in Burrus’ new role.

She will inherit a department that had seen allegations of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment go unanswered, an Examiner investigation revealed in 2018.

One such incident even involved Mar and Burrus’ direct predecessor.

In August 2016, the then-head of SFMTA’s Proof of Payment unit, Kathy Broussard, sued the agency over alleged misconduct by her supervisor, Chris Grabarkiewctz, the former chief security officer. In 2014, Grabarkiewctz allegedly called her into his office, closed the door, complimented her outfit and said “it’s getting harder and harder for me to look at you,” which Broussard alleged was an unwelcome advancement toward her.

Other Proof of Payment unit officers also alleged Grabarkiewctz allowed a hostile work environment to fester under his command.

Shortly after the Examiner’s series on harassment in 2018, Mayor London Breed ordered a top-down review of human resources practices at SFMTA. In the following months, top personnel quietly left the agency, including Grabarkiewctz.

The new chief security officer, Burrus, said discrimination and harassment will have no place in her department.

“I’m a female, and sexual harassment of any kind, whether it’s by a female or a male will not be tolerated,” she said. “I’m going to go into a situation with an open mind, and see what’s transpiring and make decisions based on what I observe.”

Burrus has had a rocky time in the press herself, after an investigation emerged in Baltimore into her use of $2,000 in charity funds to buy plane tickets for her and her two sons. She admitted to doing it, according to The Baltimore Sun, and she testified that the flight was compensation for expenditures she previously made for the nonprofit.

“Myself and Muni were both at a crossroads at the same time,” Burrus said. “When you hit that bump in the road, it sometimes tarnishes the good you’ve done. I want to turn tragedy into triumph.”

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