February 16, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Surveillance cameras installed on Detroit buses to help curb violence

In recent months, the Detroit Police Department has deployed 10 officers to DDOT buses. The plain-clothes officers have been riding along on various routes with a patrol car following behind. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

Detroit — The city on Monday will begin outfitting its bus fleet with surveillance equipment in an ongoing effort to curb violence on some of its most troubled routes.

Detroit’s Chief Operating Officer Gary Brown says the initial, $123,000 effort will equip 50 city buses with cameras within a month.

The safety upgrades come days after a 14-year-old boy was stabbed after attempting to quell a dispute between two other passengers on one of the city’s most problematic routes. The violent incident marks the latest attack among riders and drivers and highlights the need for safety upgrades within the system.

“The cameras will cut down on those fights and defuse them quicker,” Brown said. “This will make everybody understand that security is a top priority and you are being monitored.”

Brown said eight cameras will be hard-wired into each bus, providing a comprehensive view as well as audio inside and outside. The wireless feed will be transmitted to a server that’s accessible whenever needed.

The initial equipment is being provided and installed by Canada-based SEON, which provided security cameras for the SMART bus system. Brown said the city will solicit bids to complete the work on an additional 200 buses in the fleet after federal transit officials complete a review of its request for proposals. The effort is being funded through Federal Transit Administration dollars.

The department has 445 total buses in its fleet, but has plans to retiree 100 and purchase 50 new buses.

“This is simply not an issue of of money. We have the money,” Brown said. “It’s just an issue of getting through the red tape and being able to spend it and get it done. We’re ready to go.”

Safety concerns on DDOT buses have heightened over the last year and sparked protests after eight drivers were hospitalized from attacks by passengers in a nine-month span.

Fred Westbrook, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26 that represents about 500 drivers in the city, said one driver had bleach thrown in his face, others suffered wounds and broken bones.

“I am hopeful that things are going to get done,” he said. “I do know if it gets worse before it gets better that there’s going to be a problem.”

Brown and Westbrook say criminal activity has declined in recent months after the Detroit Police Department deployed 10 officers to DDOT buses. The plain-clothes officers have been riding along on various routes with a patrol car following behind.

Brown said the city is now working on a plan that calls for a more comprehensive and centralized transit force.

Currently, DDOT employs private security guards at its facility properties, monitoring equipment, buildings, parking lots and employees. They do not man buses.

Brown says the city is aiming to recruit, hire and cross-train 35 officers for bus detail. Some legal labor issues must be resolved before the plan can advance, he said.

Brown said EMT and paramedic training will be key since 40 percent of all incidents on city buses are medical-related.

In the meantime, Brown is proposing that the 19 sworn officers dedicated to the city’s People Mover be diverted to city buses.

Right now, the officers are exclusively assigned to the People Mover under an existing, 1998 agreement with the city’s police chief. Brown says he’s put in a request with Detroit’s new Police Chief James Craig to amend the agreement to allow the officers to also be deployed on DDOT buses.

Brown said the new hires planned will ultimately augment the existing transit officers and share responsibility of the buses and People Mover.

Brown estimates the cost of the new, start-up transit unit would be $3.1 million. It would be paid for with restructuring funds and later offset through grant dollars, he said.

The city’s plan of adjustment, required in its municipal bankruptcy proceedings, would ensure that $2.5 million is dedicated annually over the next decade to fund the unit, he added.

Joseph Ivory, 38, is a newer rider of the city’s bus system, but says his two teenage sons often take its lines to and from school.

In the short time Ivory has been riding, he’s seen his share disagreements while on board.

“I’ve been sitting on a bus and people are yelling and cussing at the drivers. It’s horrible,” said Ivory as he waited Friday for the Jefferson bus to get to a therapy appointment. “I do worry about them (his sons) being on the buses after all of this stuff is going on. I’m concerned with it it. Any parent is that’s in their right mind.”

Ivory says he’s looking forward to the new security measures.

“I’d like to see it implemented and see how it goes,” he said. “Let’s see if it brings down some of the drama.”

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