The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Sheriff takes action against violence on public transit

  • In response to two bus attacks last week, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke said busses now may be equipped with a shield protecting the driver.
  • Some bus drivers already carry pepper spray as a protective measure.
  • The Alliance of Guardian Angels, a volunteer safety organization, will patrol the routes where the recent attacks took place.

In light of the recent attacks, buses may now be equipped with a shield protecting drivers from unruly passengers, the Milwaukee County Sheriff said Wednesday.

Two violent incidents were caught on video surveillance Oct. 6. A driver's nose was broken by a passenger just before 5 p.m. aboard a route 19 bus. After the driver told the passenger to stop singing and pounding on the window, the passenger sat for a moment by the rear exit before walking to the front and striking the driver in the face. Just after 7 p.m. on a route 63 bus, a woman was verbally assaulted by two men and hit by one of them.

"I don't want people to have to put up with this crap," Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke said at a press conference Wednesday.

Clarke called for safety shields to be installed in Milwaukee buses.

"I want to prevent these acts from happening, not investigate them after they happen," Clarke said.

Clarke pointed out the vulnerability of bus drivers compared to other mass transit operators.

"No other form of public transportation allows you unfettered access to the operator," Clarke said. "Airlines, subway systems, Amtrak, even cabs now provide a shield."

Richard Riley, president of Local 998 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents Milwaukee County Transit drivers, said security efforts have been stepped up.

"The Sheriff's Department has a dedicated staff of officers who ride problem routes on a daily basis," Riley said.

Riley said the officers are usually undercover and that this is a temporary measure. He said they will be approaching the County Board in the future with a plan to install shields protecting the driver.

Brandon Jensen, the union's financial secretary-treasurer, also said protective shields should be installed.

"All we're talking about is a shield that will protect our drivers from being assaulted, spit on (and having) things thrown at them," Jensen said. "We've had drivers with bleach thrown in their face. (Having a shield) would block that."

He said bus riders are aware of the dangers associated with using public transportation.

"The people that ride the bus already know what's going on," Jensen said. "They know it's dangerous. They know it's not safe. They ride the bus because they don't have other options."

Last month Clarke introduced a plan to offer pepper spray training to bus drivers. Jensen said that measure was helpful and that some drivers had already been carrying protection.

"I can tell you for a fact that we have bus drivers that already are carrying pepper spray and have been for years to protect themselves," Jensen said.

"If pepper spray is not adequate, we need to look at other options," he said.

Elizabeth Shean, a sophomore in the College of Communication, said she doesn't take the bus very often because of safety issues.

"I really avoid taking the bus whenever possible," Shean said. "If I'm with someone, I feel safe. Knowing that there have been attacks on the bus reinforces the 'safety in numbers' rule for most girls I know."

"I don't think you could pay me to take the bus by myself," Shean said.

Joseph Lorbert, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration, said he regularly rides the bus.

"I don't feel particularly unsafe riding the bus," Lorbert said. "But I can see how people would. You never know who you're getting on there with."

One bus rider thought an onboard security patrol would be a good idea.

"It's a lot of youth, I notice," said Cleveland Jones of Milwaukee. "And we've got to get a hold of them some way, somehow. I think they need some security on the bus."

In addition to the Sheriff's efforts, volunteer safety patrol group Alliance of Guardian Angels will begin to patrol the routes where the attacks took place, said Chicago chapter spokesman Miguel Fuentes. The volunteers will be unarmed and pay the normal rate to ride the bus. Milwaukee's chapter is still in development, so members from other cities will be used for the time being, he said.

"Enough is enough," Fuentes said. "The Guardian Angels will not stand for it anymore."

A Monday Milwaukee County Sheriff's office press release said three suspects — Michael Gibson-Smith, Kimberly Smith and Michael Davis — were charged with battery and disorderly conduct for the attacks on a MCTS passenger on Oct. 6.

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