PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Bus drivers are at risk of attack every time their doors open.
Crimes against TriMet bus drivers and other employees jumped 46% last year — to 41 in 2015, from 28 in 2014. That’s partly why Shirley Block, president of ATU 757, the union that represents TriMet operators, wants more protection for drivers.
“First of all, the operators don’t have the support out there that they need,” Block said. “You’re sitting in a seat, you’re buckled in, somebody gets on the bus angry, they could hit you. You have no place to go.”
She tells KOIN 6 News TriMet used to train its employees in self-defense.
“That kind of went by the wayside,” she said. “They don’t do that anymore.”
TriMet’s executive director of safety and security, Harry Saporta, says they do train their personnel, but that training is aimed at de-escalating situations.
“There’s something called verbal judo, and that is using words to help de-escalate,” Saporta said, adding that the technique is something often used by police.
He says TriMet is also forming a “Security Continuous Improvement Team” made up of agency officials like himself, drivers, and field supervisors. They’re also asking members of the driver’s union to participate.
“We want to improve,” Saporta said. “Operator and field supervisor safety is of the utmost importance, and we are striving to make those improvements.”
But Block says TriMet’s efforts often come too late.
“TriMet is good at, when something happens, ‘oh yeah, we’re getting a team put together’. This team should’ve been in place a long time ago,” she said.
Block would rather see more full-time fare inspectors back on the job. She says the number of fare inspectors has dropped from 32 when she held the job, to just 3.
The Transit Police Division added 5 new officer positions last year and they’re also increasing patrols.
When asked why TriMet doesn’t allow operators to carry pepper spray, Saporta said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea for a variety of reasons. If deployed in a confined area it may affect others; If the individual is high on drugs, it may not have the effect that someone may think, I think you need to be highly trained to use it”.