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'Help me, help me': Metro bus driver stabbed, reviving fears about safety

Rachel Uranga, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Among transit agencies Metro had the sixth highest number of assaults, she said. The nation's busiest transit agency, in New York, topped the list. What Rennert found when she compared economic and social variables, was that there was a statistically significant relationship between assaults on transit workers and both income inequality and civil unrest.

Eliminating fares could help ease the stresses, she said. But Rennert warns against flooding areas with law enforcement, a move that often temporarily reduces crime but doesn't provide a long-term solution.

"You will see see drops in assault counts in spaces where cops and law enforcement are momentarily, and then when they are gone, the counts spike right back up," she said.

What the limited federal data didn't capture was the extent of violence or battery exacted on transit workers. New standards that will require agencies to report a wider range of assaults should illuminate that in the coming year.

In Los Angeles, a log of assaults on bus and rail operators, regularly presented to the Metro board, details some of the abuse bus drivers endure.

In January alone, a man attempted to rape a bus driver in Culver City; a passenger bit a bus driver because they didn't stop and then pepper- sprayed security in El Monte ; and on 7th and Alvarado streets a bus driver got into an altercation with a passenger after asking the person to stop cursing near a woman and her small children. The man swung at the driver several times, before the driver got him in a headlock and punched him. The suspect bit the driver on the chest and fled.


"These are hyperviolent examples but unfortunately it is par for the course," Rennert said. "Sexual assaults and stabbings are the types of assaults we hear about nationwide."

Metro's recently fired chief of safety and security officer, Gina Osborn, a former FBI agent, has been critical of law enforcement agencies contracted with Metro. According to her calculations, the Los Angeles Police Department and the county Sheriff's Department have presented fewer than 30% of the assault cases to the district attorney or city attorney, despite having cameras on buses.

"That to me is the most egregious," Osborn said. "There's no coordination, there's no collaboration, there's no searching to make sure that this person isn't coming back tomorrow."

She pointed to the hijacking in downtown L.A. last month, where a man armed with an airsoft gun forced the driver to steer the bus to several locations before crashing into the Ritz-Carlton hotel. When she asked law enforcement officers whether the suspect was the same person as one in a similar incident the week before, she said, they didn't know.


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