Moderated by Tom Sabulis
MARTA is adding cameras to its “rolling stock” — all its buses, trains and para-transit vehicles. The multi-million-dollar program is designed to enhance security, even though MARTA’s police chief says the transit system’s crime rate compares favorably with other large urban cities. For our second column, MARTA riders talk about how safe they feel on buses and trains.
Commenting is open below.
By Tom Sabulis
Although MARTA has seen an increase in certain types of crime recently, transit officials say the likelihood of becoming a victim while riding on a bus or train is relatively small. For example, MARTA’s latest crime statistics show that while there were no larcenies reported in June, that number jumped to six in July. During that same period, the number of reported robberies rose from only one to five.
In order To help make the system more secure, the agency last month announced a $17 million program to install cameras on its buses and, eventually, all its vehicles, including trains and para-transit. The Vehicle Security Camera System (VSCS) will capture and store images, audio and vehicle data that can help MARTA Police investigate crimes, complaints and accident claims. The Department of Homeland Security contributed $9 million because large urban transit systems can be targets for terrorism, as witnessed in Europe and Japan.
The bus camera installation is expected to be complete in June 2013. In April, MARTA will start putting them on trains. Para-transit vans will begin to get cameras in July, with the entire camera installation on MARTA’s existing fleet completed by January 2014.
MARTA Police Chief Wanda Dunham oversees 323 officers. She recently addressed crime on the system and the camera program:
On MARTA bus crime: “Our crime statistics for bus-operator assaults is actually down. That’s a good news story. We’ve done some initiatives with our bus marshals program, where we actually put officers on buses. We put them on in uniform, as well as plainclothes. We’ve had great success, and bus-operator assaults are down by 36 percent year to date,” comparing fiscal year 2012 to FY 2013.
On the perception of crime on MARTA being greater than reality: “MARTA has always been a safe system, but sometimes you deal with the perception of crime, and that’s what we find ourselves dealing with more than crime itself. A lot of people are surprised that we have one of the lowest crime rates of any police department here in Georgia. Whether it’s MARTOC [MARTA’s legislative oversight committee] or some community group, they say, ‘Wow, your crime is not bad.’ But people don’t know that. A lot of people think MARTA just breeds crime, but that’s not a true statement.”
On vehicle cameras improving security: “We have almost 2,000 cameras in the stations, and so this [cameras on buses] will be a force multiplier. We’ve had great success with our cameras inside the stations, and we want to extend that to our rolling stock.”
On cameras not stopping crime: “Cameras are a deterrent. I use the analogy of banks. Banks have had cameras forever, but people still rob banks. I think it will be a deterrent, and it’s a great investigative tool that we relish. But I don’t think anything can prevent crime.”
On installing barriers, such as Plexiglas, to protect bus operators (MARTA spokesman Lyle V. Harris): “We’ve been studying that. There has not yet been a determination if we will move forward.”
On the presence of officers on trains: “Two years ago, MARTA made a commitment that we were going to put officers on 60 percent of the trains every day, during the evening hours. We’ve lived up to those agreements. People say, ‘Well, I never see one.’ But we said every train, not every train car, so you may or may not see them, but we do have 60 percent of the trains actually being patrolled by MARTA police officers.”
Mary Jeffrey, 33, Lithonia, at Dunwoody station: “I’ve never felt threatened, but they do need to beef up their security. I think cameras will help. They need to increase the visual presence at the stations, too. You can be here later at night and not see a single employee in the station.”
Ann Rogers, 57, Atlanta, at Dunwoody station: “I just use common sense and precautions. I know when to change cars. I can see trouble coming before it happens. That’s what my grandmother always told me to look for. I have witnessed fights inside the stations, but never on trains. All in all, I get to my destination pretty good.”
Kim Billiot, 25, Atlanta, at Five Points station: “I guess cameras will help if you’re not doing anything wrong, but I don’t know how I feel about being videotaped. Then there’s going to be vandalism to the equipment. And people know how to block the cameras, maybe not on the buses but on the trains. You have to be aware on MARTA. I have to think about what I wear, not being under-dressed or showing skin. You don’t want to catch someone’s eye and they end up following you.”
Yvette Meadows, 49, Atlanta, at H.E. Holmes station: “I definitely think it’s a good idea. I don’t ride MARTA a whole lot, but if people are aware of the cameras, it will cut down on crime.”
Angela Glenn, 32, Atlanta, at Five Points station: “I think they will help with cut down on all the panhandling. I’ve seen panhandlers get angry when people say no and almost break into fights with passengers. I wouldn’t say I’ve felt threatened or scared, maybe a little worried. I’ve never felt in fear for my life, but I wish police were on the trains a bit more. I think the cameras will help if there’s someone to assist when something goes wrong. I don’t see the point in them if no one’s there to apprehend criminals or stop what they’re doing.”
Tawander Howard, 35, Atlanta, at Five Points station: “They need to keep the trains from being so nasty. There are people on the train who smell like they been smoking weed, throwing trash around, panhandling. And the MARTA police just seem to do what they want to do. You don’t see them much; like right now, someone could snatch my purse, and if I pick up the phone to call the police, the thief will be gone already. They need to be down here walking around.”
Carol Intha, 50, Atlanta, at Five Points station: “I do feel we need to step up security, and it’s very comforting to know they are adding cameras. I have felt threatened by panhandlers. They can be very aggressive asking for money or food, and they start cursing when you don’t give them any. When you push the [emergency] button in the [train] cars to report it, nobody responds. You have people about to come to blows over something, and you’re stuck there in the middle of it.”