Citing an overall spike in smart-phone robberies and a high-profile shooting on Muni, San Francisco city officials launched a multilingual campaign Thursday to encourage transit riders to get off their phones and pay attention to their surroundings.
“We think we can get to zero crime on Muni,” said Mayor Ed Lee. “I know that sounds almost impossible to do, but we need to have a goal like that in order to challenge everybody to pay attention.”
During an Embarcadero press conference, Lee, Police Chief Greg Suhr and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Director Ed Reiskin announced a new anti-crime awareness campaign called “Eyes Up, Phones Down.” It includes adding more officers on buses and trains.
“Nobody’s stealing books. If people would read a book while they’re on Muni instead of looking at their electronic device, we could get our robberies down to nothing,” said Suhr. “Be smart, don’t make it available.”
Suhr wouldn’t confirm how many additional officers are being deployed, only that “they’ll be everywhere.” A KTVU reporter tweeted that the detail will amount to about a dozen officers, or roughly 10,000 hours, according to a Muni spokeswoman. The extra patrols are being funded through a $1 million federal homeland security grant.
Suhr said SFPD officers already have a very visible presence on Muni. Every SFPD officer is required to ride a Muni vehicle twice a shift, and there are uniformed and plainclothes officers who are assigned to Muni full time. Suhr says the heightened police presence has led to a dip in robberies on Muni over the past two months.
“We have better than a thousand officers assigned to patrol,” he said.
SFMTA officials say fare inspectors will launch a special outreach program, handing out safety tip cards, especially to “customers that appear vulnerable to these crimes of opportunity.”
At the Embarcadero station, Muni rider Audrey Le said the September murder of 20-yeear-old Justin Valdez, who was shot while exiting a train, has made her more self-conscious about using her smartphone on transit. Surveillance video shows riders glued to their phones while the suspect was brandishing a gun.
“I always look up, especially near the doorway of a train because I know that’s when people can grab my phone and run out the door,” said Le. “I’m definitely more aware, but it’s really hard not to look at your phone.”
Apple and other companies have launched anti-theft programs, and “bricking” technology that locks phones to prevent anyone from using them. Suhr said it was too early to tell whether that had contributed to the recent decline in smartphone thefts on Muni.