SEATTLE - A KIRO 7 investigation and review of King County Metro bus statistics found that assaults on passengers are increasing, but Metro Police say the buses are still very safe.
There were 83 assaults on passengers reported by Metro drivers during the first nine months of 2013. There were just 52 in all of 2012 and 31 in 2011.
Angela Tyson rides the bus every day.
“I’ve run into situations where I’ve felt uncomfortable,” Tyson said.
She added that she has never seen a completely violent situation. Her experience is typical for most KIRO 7 spoke with about passenger assaults.
King County Sheriff's Major Dave Jutilla runs the Metro Police. He is in charge of the 67 Metro Transit officers responsible for guarding people as they take a combined 115 million rides on buses each year.
Jutilla said actual assaults on passengers are rare. He pointed out that bus drivers may incorrectly report misunderstandings and verbal fights as more serious situations. Jutilla said law enforcement officers need a lot more information and cooperating victims to consider an incident an assault.
Jutilla called what the bus drivers were reporting a “barometer” of what is happening on the buses. He said he uses that information to keep uniformed officers and undercover detectives on the most crime-ridden bus lines.
KIRO 7 has profiled crime problems on route 7 numerous times this year:
However, Jutilla said it will always be bus operators on the front lines. He said they get regular training on diffusing tense situations, and their go to tool is a simple and effective one KIRO 7 noticed while reviewing surveillance video.
“People that are creating bad behavior know that if a bus stops, more often than not, there's a police response that is coming in that direction, and most of them would not want to be contacted by the police,” Jutilla said.
Not surprisingly, most assaults happen at night. Jutilla said if you are nervous about riding at night: Move quickly and with intent, pay attention to your surroundings and sit near the front-- close to the driver so you can get help easily.
About 40 percent of Metro buses have security cameras. Metro plans to continue to add that technology because Metro Police believe getting caught on camera also helps deter crime.