We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the bus rules. Rain or shine (or snow), Milwaukee County Transit System is there, dutifully shuttling people across town and back again. The bus is great, the bus is safe, and it’s fun to ride the Green Line all the way from Bayshore to the airport. Plus, the drivers are legit heroes.
But, as any seasoned rider will tell you, sometimes sketchy shit goes down on the bus. That sketchy shit is at the heart of a resolution unanimously passed by the Transportation Committee of the Milwaukee County Board on Wednesday, which vows to study the creation of “a new classification of law enforcement officer” that would serve MCTS.
“Milwaukee County has a responsibility to provide a safe and secure environment for our drivers and passengers,” says Supervisor Dan Sebring, sponsor of the proposal. “We’ve been hearing more and more about assaults on drivers that seem to be increasing in their intensity. This level of violence is beyond the capabilities of private security, which is why we need sheriff’s deputies with full law enforcement authorities—including the power to make arrests—on county buses.”
Sebring’s new breed of bus cop would be under the direction of the Sheriff’s Office, and would have the power to make lawful arrests and issue citations for various violations. That power is beyond the scope of the private firm that currently provides security on MCTS buses to the tune of $1.5 million a year.
Fare evasion is one of the violations singled out in the resolution. According to testimony, Milwaukee County loses nearly $340,000 annually due to fare evasion. Also, art theft is strangely a thing.
Sebring’s resolution—co-sponsored by Supervisor Patti Logsdon—calls for exploring “all available funding sources including state and federal law enforcement grants.” It also calls for a study group to report back to the County Board no later than May 2019. The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors will consider the proposal on February 7.
Urban Milwaukee has more on the story. Here’s the resolution, in its entirety:
Authorizing and requesting the study of creating a new classification of transit security officer in the Office of the Sheriff to improve security throughout the Milwaukee County Transit System
WHEREAS, a 2017 audit of the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) by SRF Consulting, commissioned by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, found the transit company to be “an efficient transit system with dedicated employees…”; and
WHEREAS, MCTS drivers provide exemplary service to the community as evidenced by national and international news coverage of their life saving acts and other good deeds; and
WHEREAS, Milwaukee County wishes to maintain the reputation its drivers bring along with their quality provision of transit service for residents and County guests; and
WHEREAS, on November 19, 2018, as reported by the local media, three assailants assaulted a MCTS bus driver, which adversely impacts the safe environment for drivers and passengers which is sought for the bus system; and
WHEREAS, during testimony on File No. 18-547, policymakers learned MCTS loses approximately $337,000 per year from fare evasion and debated the MCTS policy and bus driver preference to not confront fare evaders beyond asking once to pay the required fare; and
WHEREAS, at the cost of approximately $1.5 million annually, MCTS’ current contract with a private security firm yields 1,360 hours of service per week providing a visual security presence on buses, intersection checks with bus drivers verifying security status, and fare enforcement, but security officers lack the legal authority a sworn officer possesses; and
WHEREAS, due to higher priority calls, the Milwaukee Police Department and the Milwaukee County Office of the Sheriff typically do not prioritize responses for fare evasion and minor incidents despite these issues adversely impacting the experience of drivers and riders; and
WHEREAS, the transit system may benefit from the presence of sworn law enforcement officers who are held in higher regard by the public and possess more authority to respond more effectively to those disruptive to bus operation; and
WHEREAS, numerous transit systems within and outside the United States employ variations of transit police for security purposes and it may be in the best interest of the County and MCTS to create a new classification of transit security officer under the direction of the Sheriff, and to reallocate the monies presently spent per year on private security; now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED, that the staff from the Department of Human Resources, working in conjunction with transit officials, the Office of the Sheriff, Department of Administrative Services, Comptroller, and others who may inform the conversation, shall study the feasibility of:
• How Milwaukee County might create a separate classification of officer to serve as transit security, overseen by the Sheriff’s Department, with the power to make lawful arrests and issue citations for disorderly conduct, fare evasion, and other acts detrimental to the experience of MCTS drivers and users
• Including sources of continual funding including but not limited to state and federal law enforcement grants
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the group shall furnish a report to the County Board no later than the May 2019 meeting cycle on the feasibility of establishing a classification of transit security officer within the Office of the Sheriff that could assume the duties and responsibilities currently provided by a private vendor and the possibility of state and federal grants for continual funding.