Monday, September 1, 2008

SFGA history: Angels Watching Over Muni / Unarmed volunteer patrols ride buses to deter crime

Angels Watching Over Muni / Unarmed volunteer patrols ride buses to deter crime;

San Francisco, Calif.: Aug 10, 1994. pg. A.15

Tom Joson now says a little prayer before boarding a public bus in San Francisco, asking God to protect him from criminals.

A recent wave of violent crime on the city's Municipal Railway buses had left the 39-year-old man scared. But his fears lightened a little yesterday, when he saw three Guardian Angels board the No. 14-Mission bus and stand around him.

"Now, I feel more safe," Joson said with a smile.

In response to an outbreak of violent crime on Muni in the past four days, including the stabbing of a 20-year-old man Monday night, a dozen Guardian Angels boarded buses from 7 a.m. to midnight yesterday to help police restore safety on city buses.

By the end of the week, as many as 30 Guardian Angels will ride the No. 9, 14, 15 and 48 lines, the routes having the most problems, said Eric Johnson, San Francisco chapter leader of the Guardian Angels. They will continue to act as "visual deterrents" on Muni buses until Mayor Frank Jordan puts more officers on patrol in high-crime areas.

The latest violent crime on Muni occurred about 9 p.m. Monday, when five men in their 20s stabbed a 20-year-old man repeatedly in his right leg and upper back after an argument on the No. 15 bus at Geneva and Santos streets.

The man is in fair condition and is being treated for seven stab wounds to his leg and one to his upper back at San Francisco General Hospital, a hospital spokeswoman said.

In another incident, a gang fight broke out on a No. 14 bus at 18th and Mission streets early Sunday. On Saturday, an off-duty security guard shot to death a man who attempted to stab a female passenger aboard a westbound No. 9-San Bruno bus.

"What happened this weekend, especially so close together, is very unusual," Muni spokesman Alan Siegel said. "People need to know that they can still ride the buses safely. This system is a secure system."

Muni carries 730,000 riders each weekday, and very little crime occurs relative to the number of people who use the system, Siegel said.

After the weekend incidents, Mayor Jordan said he would try to increase the number of police officers assigned to the transit system.

Siegel said Muni is working with police and the mayor's office to increase the number of officers assigned to Muni security from 17 to 50, reassign some officers to high-crime areas and require foot patrol officers to also ride buses occasionally.
But it could take three months for more officers to finish the police academy or for the city to fund 33 new officers in its budget.

Until then, Johnson said the Guardian Angels are prepared to pitch in and help patrol the buses.

"Our presence is making a difference," Johnson said. "I've gotten on buses that were rowdy and watched it quiet down quite a bit."

Many riders said they felt safer with the Guardian Angels on board. But some said the Angels' presence made little difference, but added that they would continue to ride Muni.

"It's just the sign of the times," said Winnie Ahern, 50, a San Francisco homemaker who rides the Muni every day. "You can't stop living just because some people want you to. Once you become a prisoner, you're a prisoner forever."

PHOTO; Caption: Eric Johnson, San Francisco chapter leader of the Guardian Angels, rode a Muni bus with two other red-beret-wearing members of the public protection group / BY MICHAEL MACOR/THE CHRONICLE

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