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Detroit union: More cops equal fewer transit assaults

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — More police officers on buses, less crime on board. That’s the formula Detroit transit and city authorities were working with, and they say it appears to be paying off.

Detroit transit police officer Dujuan Brown talks to a disruptive passenger to determine if he should be removed from a bus and given a free ticket for the next bus.

Transit police “have really impacted the bus routes,” said Fred Westbrook, president of Detroit Department of Transportation bus driver union Local 26.

“Verbal assaults and physical assaults have dropped,” said Westbrook, who didn’t have exact figures. “We still need more because of the geographical area they have to cover and the bus lines they are on.”

Police presence on city buses and the People Mover has increased this year with the hiring of more transit officers, city officials said this week.

Since January, 16 transit officers have been hired; more hires are planned. Transit officers patrol the Detroit People Mover, buses and high crime areas on and near bus routes.

Detroit Transit Police officers Dujuan Brown, left, and Cory Starnes patrol as passengers board buses at the Rosa Parks Transit Center in downtown Detroit. The DTP has increased patrols and identified high crime areas on or near bus routes.

“When we’re able to hire more officers it allows us to board more buses,” said Sidney Bogan, Detroit transit police chief. “It gives us the level of flexibility that gives us the opportunity to extend more public safety for the buses and the People Mover. The quality of officers that we’re actually able to secure allows us to give top-notch service.”

Bus boardings by officers between January and May this year reached 5,902, up 70 percent from 3,527 during the same period in 2015, the city said.

The transit police department said it has staffed three shifts since the new hires that include three lieutenants, five sergeants and 16 officers. The department now has 43 transit officers and a staff of 56. The goal is to reach 49 transit police officers and total staff of 62.

“We’re trying to get the manpower to up to least 49 as quickly as possible and we’ll go from there,” said Lt. Ricky Brown. “Ideally the sky is the limit. If the funds are available, we will continue to hire.”

The move to place transit officers on city buses began in 2014 after complaints from passengers and bus drivers of incidents of physical assaults, verbal abuse and harassment on the buses. In late 2013, bus drivers called in sick to protest unsafe conditions. Security cameras were installed on buses.

In August, a 50-year-old woman was fatally stabbed following an argument with another woman while on the bus.

Westbrook said that transit officer response time is down to 10 minutes to arrive on the scene of an incident.

“That’s the longest it would take depends on where a unit is,” he said. “At the beginning the response time it could be as long as 20 (minutes.) They got it down to 10. Once they get additional manpower it will be even less than that.”

Passengers are more inclined to report incidents because they have an expectation that police will follow up, transit officials said.

Jemirah Edison, 16, waiting for a bus earlier this week at the Rosa Parks Transit Center in downtown Detroit, said she began noticing earlier this year an increase in police on the buses she takes to and from Detroit Edison Public School Academy.

“I’m glad,” she said. “Anybody that looks suspicious, they go up to them.”

Her friends, brothers, Emanuel and Nathaniel Williams, both 16, said they’ve also noticed a change. They say passengers are more respectful.

“I get to rest easy,” Emanuel Williams said.

Joe Lopez, 48, said he hasn’t noticed an increased police presence on the buses he takes to and from work. He was waiting for the Vernor-Wyoming bus at the transit center.

Lopez said he’d like to see more officers.

“When you notice more officers you feel safer,” he said.

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