Muni crime spikes; police often absent

SAN FRANCISCO Watch the Muni suveillance videos (may contain graphic language):
>> VIDEO: A man assaults a woman.
>> VIDEO: A Good Samaritan breaks up a fight.
>> VIDEO: The Good Samaritan breaks his finger.
>> VIDEO: A gang assault breaks out on the bus.
>> VIDEO: A Muni driver gets in an argument.
>> VIDEO: Two women get in a fight.

The police department order is very clear -- all officers working in squad cars have to ride a Muni bus twice every shift, four times if they are on foot patrol. But passengers, city supervisors and even the police chief herself say that is often not happening.

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It was a cold day last December when Jasmin Khabay was on the 38 Geary bus, taking her mother to a doctor's appointment.

"I didn't have a jacket on, my mother was with me, cold, so I started closing the windows towards the back of the bus," Khabay said.

But the man across the aisle wanted the window open; it resulted in an argument.

"Hey, both of you, shut the f*** up," the passenger said.

Another passenger, 59-year-old James DeJean, overheard the argument.

"I hear her saying, 'I didn't do nothing, I don't know you, why are you doing this, sir?' Then I see him calling out a name, and you hear a loud (slap)," DeJean said.

It began to get physical.

"I got up, and at that moment he grabbed me by my neck and threw me to the seat," Khabay said.

There were no police on board, so DeJean, a Vietnam veteran, took action.

Passenger: "There's an assault happening in the back."

"He didn't know that I was standing behind him, and the next thing I know, I just grabbed him and (makes hitting sound with hands)," DeJean said.

DeJean had the man in a headlock, but the bus driver opened the back door and DeJean fell out and hit his head on the curb.

"When he's standing over me hitting me outside of the bus, that's when I could see that he had a knife and he was going to cut me," DeJean said.

That time, Khabay came to DeJean's rescue, kicking the man until he ran away. The driver quickly called Muni central control to report the assault. He also honked his horn to attract the attention of a passing police car.

But, the police did not stop. Five minutes pass and still, no police -- the driver became frustrated.

Driver: "See how long it take them mother f***ers to get here."

In the video, the driver pointed out a police car guarding a nearby department store.

Driver: "See the police car, right there? Over there to the right? See that car pulling out the garage? They over there guarding Macys. Give me a f***ing break.

Khabay: "Oh my goodness, they could have been doing something already."

Driver: "Hey, officer. You got a second?"

Finally, the driver flagged down a beat cop who was walking past.

Driver: "This lady just been assaulted."

SFPD Officer: "She been what?"

Driver: "Assaulted."

SFPD Officer: "Assaulted? You need an ambulance?"

It is a problem the I-Team saw again and again, as it reviewed Muni surveillance videos from the last three months of 2008 -- assaults and robberies committed on city buses, and no police there to stop them.

Driver: "We needed y'all 20 minutes ago. They was in here just, tearing up the bus."

Police are supposed to be riding busses

Out of 18 crime-related videos that Muni gave the I-Team in response to a public records act request, not a single person has been arrested or charged.

"I've said, 'hey call me, if you see a police officer on a bus, on a street car, call me and tell me;' one person called me," San Francisco Supervisor Bevan Dufty said.

Dufty says when it comes to crime on Muni, the police department is not doing its job.

"It's absolutely wrong, and it's a failure of leadership on the part of the police department," Dufty said.

The general order is clear -- "each officer assigned to a radio car...shall make two (bus) inspections per shift." They have to ride "on the bus for...five blocks each visit." And, "each officer assigned to a foot beat...shall make four inspections per shift."

Police Chief Heather Fong signed off on that order in 2001 when she headed field operations. Even she admits the Bus Inspection Program is not working as it should.

"We track the statistics and it is clear that officers are not necessarily fulfilling the bus inspection program provisions as outlined by the field operations bureau," Fong said.

The most recent police audit of the Bus Inspection Program (BIP) claims that about 90 percent of the time, officers are following the rules and riding Muni buses on their shifts.

But, many officers the I-Team spoke with say the numbers are way off -- that most of the bus inspections never happen. Officers will often just sit in their squad cars and call in the number of a passing bus. They even have a name for it -- "BIP fraud".

"BIP fraud? I would hope that they're not BIP fraud because there's a clear field operations bureau general order and sergeants and watch commanders are responsible when they sign people off for ensuring that that's occurring," Fong said.

"We are right now renegotiating our memorandum of understanding with the police department, and really stiffening up, tightening up some of the services that they provide to us," Muni Executive Director Nat Ford said.

Ford says he is instituting a smart card system that will track when and for how long police officers are riding Muni buses.

"When you have issues of crime and things of that nature, it's important that everyone feels comfortable that that policy and procedure is in force," Ford said.

Dejean hopes to see SFPD officers on the buses soon, so Good Samaritans like him will not have to keep putting their lives on the line.

"You know if it wasn't me being god sent doing this, this, this incident, somebody could get hurt, or somebody going to get killed," DeJean said.

Felony crimes jumped in late 2008

Muni's on-board surveillance cameras capture strong-arm robberies and assaults on city buses.

Statistics from the SFPD show that all major felony crimes on Muni jumped during the last three months of 2008, compared to the same period the year before.

Thefts increased about 50 percent, from 102 to 150. It was the same for robberies, jumping from 38 to 57. Aggravated assaults doubled, from six to 12.

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One of the victims was Juan Aguilar. He was taking the 9X San Bruno home after work when a gang member demanded money. He refused, so the attacker put on brass knuckles.

"He started to hit me, hit me, hit me in my eyes," Aguilar said.

Several more gang members joined in; at least eight passengers saw the assault taking place, but no one did anything, or even told the driver what was happening at the back of the bus.

"Nobody helped me," Aguilar said.

The gang members grabbed Aguilar's keys from around his neck, and casually got off at the next stop.

Aguilar: "Somebody's hitting me on the, on, on, on the, on the f***ing bus. In the back."

Driver: "In the back?"

Aguilar: "Yeah."

Driver: "Why you didn't say something to me earlier?"

Aguilar: "Yeah, I mean speak louder, somebody help me, nobody help me."

Aguilar says he still sees the gang members who attacked him walking the streets of his neighborhood. None of them were arrested.

Gangs often prey on bus passengers. In another instance, three attackers cornered a teenager in the aisle. They beat him as he tried to escape. Then, as he fought off two of them, the third hit him from behind and knocked him out.

"People feel like you know, Muni is getting less safe, not safer," San Francisco Supervisor David Campos said.

Campos says a passenger mugged him for his iPhone after getting off a Muni bus.

"The main concern that I have is that if it can happen to me, then it can definitely happen to people who are even more vulnerable," Campos said.

One of the city's most notoriously crime-ridden bus lines runs through his district -- the 14 Mission.

A surveillance video shows a fight breaking out on the crowded bus.

A 61-year-old woman was knocked to the ground, and hit her head on a railing.

Driver: "Does anybody get hurt? Does anybody get hurt?"

The woman went to the hospital.

iPods are a common target for strong-arm robberies, and sometimes the victims are too intimidated to even report the crime.

Driver: "What, are you afraid to report it? That's why everyday happens that sh** in here."

And it is not just passengers -- Muni drivers are targets for crime, too.

One fare evader waited to get off the 108 on Treasure Island. As the bus pulled up, he spit on the driver.

Fare evader: "B**** ass n****."

The driver jumped out of his seat before the bus had even stopped, and they start fighting.

Passenger: "Hey, stop the bus. Stop the bus. Whoa, whoa man."

The bus kept rolling down the street as the fight continued, until a passenger jumped behind the wheel and put on the brakes.

The attacker escaped through a back window.

The crime situation on Muni has not improved much. There were just as many robberies on Muni in the first three months of this year as there were during the same period last year. Aggravated assaults were slightly down, with three less than the year before.

Related Link:
I-Team blog: Keeping safe on Muni

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