A 100 uniformed and undercover police officers were unleashed onto bus lines across the city around 2 p.m. Wednesday in the biggest police sting ever performed on Muni. The cops handed citations to fare evaders and were on the lookout for crime.
Crime is down in the city, but up on Muni, Capt. Lazar said during the press briefing at the Tenderloin Police Station right before Operation Safe Muni exploded onto the streets.
Lazar works at Ingleside Station, where Lieut. Cherniss carried out a smaller test version of Operation Safe Muni on Sept. 22. Responding to the Sept. 1 stabbing of an 11-year-old boy riding the 49-Van Ness/Mission, the test version targeted the 9X-San Bruno, the 14-Mission, and the 49.
But Wednesday’s sting was citywide and involved officers from many different stations hoping to catch assailants, thieves, taggers, and fare evaders. If the operation is successful, it will not be the last of its kind, according to officials.
“My message is that the best thing you can do is have officers visibly riding the system,” said Supervisor Bevan Dufty outside the station.
“Our mission today is to address crime on Muni,” said Lazar, asking sergeants to pick high crime and commute areas wisely. Reports of violent crime on Muni rose from 43 in 2008 to 49 in 2009. In that same period, fare evasions rose from 26,277 to 39,277, according to the San Francisco Examiner.
Lazar reminded officers not to take lunch breaks during peak hours of 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. He also asked that officers not disrupt the bus schedule, but have passengers exit the bus while the citations are written.
Although officers are normally required to ride two buses per shift, the sting process was new to some. In small teams — about four to seven cops to a double bus — they were accompanied by a Muni fare collector who trained them how to identify counterfeit passes, old transfers and student IDs, and how to properly fill out citations.
Muni fare inspector Michael Butler told the officers at 16th and Mission to wait until the bus doors were closed to make the proof of payment announcement. That way, he said, there’s a captive audience that can’t escape the bus to avoid the penalty.
In a period of three hours on a normal day, the 14-Mission can generate as many as 200 citations for fare evasion, Butler explained.
During Wednesday’s sting, it took only a few minutes for a 25-year-old man with no ID, two homeless men, a man too young to have a senior pass, three people with outdated transfers, and a handful of others to be handed $75 citations.
One woman told police she bought her 75 cent disabled ticket on a bus in front of SF General Hospital but then lost the transfer. Instead, she had an old transfer from a morning bus ride in her purse.
Raymond Folsom, 55, was issued a citation for using a Muni pass for seniors. He said he bought the pass after employees of the Department of Human Services told him he qualified.
“I went and bought it and wasted my dime,” he said. “I’m homeless — what am I going to do?”
Two young men got citations at 2:36 p.m., four minutes after their transfers had expired.
A 26-year-old Iraq war veteran, who said his parents are both Muni drivers, had boarded on 11th and Mission streets, and was cited at 16th and Mission for not having a ticket.
“The city needs the money, so it’s taking it from the citizens,” he said, adding that he’s unemployed and didn’t feel like paying.
Another man, 22, was on his way to his job at Conscious Youth Media Crew, an organization that works with inner city youth, when he got a citation.
“I didn’t expect this,” he said, and began to walk to work.
“Two dollars is ridiculous,” said a woman with white hair as she handed her ID to an undercover officer. “With the way the economy is going, it should have went down in price.”
“This is a total waste of money on these police,” she said, walking away.
Around 5:30 p.m., undercover officers waiting to catch the next bus at 16th and Mission said they hadn’t encountered any graffiti writing, gang activity, or violence aimed at unsuspecting passengers during the sting. They continued to issue citations.
Police officers were expected back at the Tenderloin Police Station at 8:30 pm to debrief on the day’s work. The statistics will tell whether it’s been a worthwhile and replicable endeavor to stop crime on Muni, and reduce the $19 million annual loss from fare evasion.
Citations need to be paid within 21 days or protested in court.