These are statistics that Muni’s lawyers didn’t want you to see. The video surveillance cameras on twenty-two percent of the city’s buses and light rail were completely broken, thirty percent were listed as “partially functional”, and only forty-eight pecent of the buses and light rail in Muni’s fleet had fully working cameras, as of last month.
*** Update at 5:10pm: Muni has just released the documents -- one titled "Sensitive Security Information" gives the overall breakdown of numbers. The other is Muni boss Nat Ford's memo to the MTA Board that outlines the various ways the surveillance systems have broken down.***
The stats come from a study that Muni boss Nat Ford ordered in September, after he found out the camera that should have captured footage of a man stabbing eleven-year-old Hatim Mansori at the back of the 49 Mission bus last month was broken. Hatim was heading home from baseball practice at Marina Middle School when, passengers told police, the man in his 30s stabbed Hatim in the stomach without provocation.
The knife-wound punctured Hatim’s liver and intestines, and he had to undergo emergency surgery at San Francisco General Hospital. It was the first time he had caught the bus on his own. Police still haven’t arrested anyone for the attack.
Broken cameras on Muni are nothing new. In April, we reported on twenty-five-year-old Mohammed Alnaif. A Muni bus dragged Mohammed for a city block, breaking his bones, damaging his spine and scraping the skin off his back. The camera that should have captured it all was broken. However, even we were surprised to find out how many cameras were currently out of commission.
City insiders have known the disturbing facts about Muni’s broken cameras for weeks. Muni spokesman Judson True told reporters in the weeks after Hatim was stabbed that a “significant number” of the cameras on Muni buses were broken, but the agency would not reveal how significant.
The MTA board saw the results of Ford’s study on September 15th, but the city attorneys who represent Muni wanted to keep this vital public-safety information a secret, until we filed a public records request and forced them to turn over the documents.
It’s just another chapter in the I-Team’s long-running battle with Muni over public records. In 2007, KGO-TV filed a lawsuit against Muni because it refused to give us access to driver discipline records and footage from surveillance cameras on Muni buses and trains. We won the case, and since then we’ve reported many stories using footage from what we call the “Muni video vault”.
Last year, we ran a series about the Muni bus drivers who receive the most public complaints. The surveillance videos showed exactly what so many passengers had to complain about, including drivers who swore at passengers and threatened them with physical violence. We even found one driver who told a woman in a wheelchair he wouldn't pick her up.
Even when the surveillance cameras are working properly, they can’t combat crime on their own. In May, we reported on how SFPD patrol officers were not riding Muni buses twice every shift, as they’re supposed to under city regulations.
As part of the story, we showed graphic footage from surveillance cameras of felony crimes on Muni buses, including strong-arm robbery and assault. The suspects were caught on video, but none were arrested or prosecuted.