The District of Columbia police department has disbanded its 12-man Metrobus security team and assigned responsibility for patrolling the buses to individual police districts, Assistant Chief Bernard Crooke said yesterday.
The action was taken, Crooke said, "because there is not enough [crime on buses] to put a special detail on it all the time." He emphasized, however, that policemen from the various districts would regularly board and ride buses and that police department attention to the buses would continue.
The Metro Transit Police recently received approval to add 20 officers to their active-duty numbers and assign them to bus patrols.
At the time he requested the additional officers, Metro Transit Police Chief Angus MacLean said that he would need 10 more men if the D.C. police reduced their patrols.
That point has not been reached, MacLean said yesterday. "I think that with the sensitivity to the bus security problem that exists now, D.C. will have more police out there than Bernie [Crooke] did with his patrols . . . I really believe it's going to be even better."
Increased police patrols on the buses and a number of other security measures were started May 19, one day after a wildcat strike by some bus drivers. The drivers complained that they were not receiving adequate police protection, particularly when compared with the police visibility in the Metro subway. One woman bus driver was raped while her bus was stopped at a layover point in Southeast Washington.
Drivers complained about harassment from riders, fare evasion, smoking and eating on the bus and occasional thrown objects. While those problems, in themselves, do not constitute hard-core crime, they drive away passengers and intimidate drivers. Many drivers said they were afraid to enforce Metro regulations, particularly on the almost-empty buses late at night, for fear the violators were armed.
The transit police have made 76 arrests since June 1 on the buses and have handed out 654 warnings. Most of the arrests are for fare evasion. The biggest crime problem on the buses, according to Crooke, has been that posed by pickpockets, and several details have been mounted in recent months to combat the thieves.
"I'm in total sympathy with the bus drivers and their objectives," Crooke said, "but with the number of demonstrations and other things we have around here. I can't consider permanently dedicated 12 people to making arrests for eating apples and fare evasion . . ."