Friday, February 26, 2010

All Madison Metro Transit Buses to Have Cameras

Metro Transit is set to finish installing surveillance cameras on all 203 of its buses by mid-March, something officials say has improved safety both on and near buses.
The agency, police and school officials are crediting more cameras with a reduction in fights and other incidents on buses last year. Madison police also say they are using video footage from bus cameras to solve crimes.
Metro Transit began compiling data on incidents in 2008 and last year's data show there were 565 incidents on all buses, 103 fewer than in 2008, a 15.4 percent decline. Fights were down from 84 incidents in 2008 to 39 incidents in 2009, a 53 percent decline.
"We definitely have been seeing some slow but incremental changes in bus safety that are long overdue," said Madison Police Capt. Joe Balles.
Balles said Madison police are requesting video footage almost every week to deal with incidents on buses or to find additional evidence if a crime was committed near a bus route. In one case, video was used to identify a robbery suspect whom the victim said followed him off of a bus.
Police haven't tracked the number of times video evidence has led to an arrest, though Metro Transit said police requested about 60 video clips last year. Footage from the five cameras on each bus is kept for 10 to 14 days, unless someone asks for the footage to be reviewed, in which case it is kept on file indefinitely.
Cameras a safety measure
When Metro Transit began installing cameras on its buses in 2006, Madison city and school officials were getting an earful about safety problems.
Fights, vulgar language and rowdiness on Metro buses carrying middle and high school students were causing parents concern. In one incident, a bus driver was beaten by four teenagers after he asked them to stop swearing and rough-housing.
There were 49 buses equipped with cameras in 2008 and 174 had cameras by the end of 2009.
Data from those two years show that on school bus routes, there were almost half as many fights in 2009, but an increase in disruptive behavior and vulgar language incidents.
Overall there were 201 incidents on Metro buses transporting students in 2009, 16 fewer than in 2008, a 7 percent decline.
Madison School District safety coordinator Luis Yudice said the increase in disruptive behavior is an indication that Metro bus drivers are now more likely to file incident reports because they know that school and police officials are following up on them.
School, police, city and bus officials have been meeting regularly for the last two years to coordinate information and strategies for improving bus safety. As part of the new focus on safety, bus drivers have been trained to report incidents - such as fights, thrown objects, vulgar language, fare disputes, smoking, theft, vandalism and weapons brought aboard - and Metro has begun tracking the number of incidents each month.
Students have been difficult to discipline in the past because state law doesn't allow the school district to suspend or expel students who misbehave off of school grounds, Yudice said. Now Metro officials are showing video footage to school officials, who are identifying students and reporting them to their parents, or in a few instances, to police.
Metro spokesman Mick Rusch said the cameras are also a training tool and can be used to verify complaints against drivers. He said Metro has not tracked the number of times video has been used in such cases.
For about the last year, Metro has used the recordings to evaluate new drivers at the end of their six-month probationary period, he said. The video is also used when part-time drivers are promoted to full-time drivers, he said.
But Metro doesn't regularly use the videos to conduct ongoing performance reviews, Rusch said.
In 2007, a driver was fired and charged with disorderly conduct after he sped off with a passenger, who had urinated on the bus, clinging to the outside. The episode was caught on video and showed the driver had not followed agency policy, Metro officials said.
Videos are also used to verify incidents where passengers say they slipped and fell and to monitor if certain bus routes are so full that passengers have to wait for multiple buses, Rusch said.