CLEVELAND — Marvetta Rutherford of Cleveland has been riding Greater Cleveland RTA for more than 50 years and said recent bus, and bus station violence has her demanding the transit system look at additional ways to improve safety.
Rutherford pointed out the fatal shooting of 21-year-old David Kittreles on the RTA Euclid Ave. HealthLine bus on March 21, and two separate violent attacks at the West Blvd. Cudell and Hopkins Airport rapid stations last week.
“It’s a terrible set of circumstances," Rutherford said. “I ride the bus at night, I ride the bus on the weekends at night. Am I concerned? I’m always aware of my surroundings. Could they do a better job, of course they could.”
Chris Stocking with Clevelanders for Public Transit said establishing a significant group of paid transit ambassadors is the best way to improve bus line security presence without the need for increasing the number of RTA police.
“These incidents at the rail stations are concerning," Stocking said. “We see a lot of riders, they feel unsafe at night, especially at the rapid stations. It’s dark, there’s not a lot of riders.”
“Since RTA was founded the police have grown 400% and we still see crime happening. That’s why we want to see transit ambassadors. We want more eyes on the street without necessarily an increased police presence. This police budget just keeps on growing, so I’d really like to see that money rededicated to transit ambassadors and less to policing. Less people are riding, so the less people you get in these stations and on the buses, the more chance you have for crime.”
William Nix, President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 268, said he would welcome citizen transit ambassadors, but said additional RTA police are also needed.
“We need that kind of visibility and safety is a must," Nix said. “More at the stops, as well as on the buses just walking through, because that will help a lot...When you come on the bus, we don’t have metal detectors so we don’t know what a person is carrying on there. And my members are worried, they want to go home to their families every day, and they’re trying to watch and learn and observe, but you don’t know what a person is still carrying out there.”
The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority responded immediately to out story and issued the following statement:
We continue to take aggressive measures to reduce crimes that occur on GCRTA buses, trains, and property, and we’re seeing strong results. I wanted to update you on safety measures we have in place, including an important new program we are rolling out this year.
In February, we served 1.3 million riders – that’s 28% more than February of 2021. Although four serious crimes have unfortunately occurred on RTA property over the past few weeks, our Transit Police acted swiftly, working with area police to solve these crimes and arrest the individuals involved, so they can be brought to justice. We thank our skilled police officers, and our law enforcement partners.
Serious crimes get big headlines and attract lots of attention – and that’s understandable. When they occur, we’ll react swiftly, as we did with these recent incidents. But let’s not allow these rare events to overshadow the fact that we provide millions of safe rides. We will never allow a few bad actors intent on bad deeds to deter us from our daily goal: making RTA safe for our riders and our employees. That’s our number one priority. We’re walking the talk – here are important safety facts about RTA to prove it:
- With 82 full-time sworn police officers, the GCRTA Transit Police Department is the fourth largest police department in Cuyahoga County. Our police officers are certified by the Ohio Peace Officers Training Commission, and they’re authorized to enforce all city, state, and federal laws.
- In addition, eight canine teams and plainclothes detectives patrol our system daily to deter crime and terrorism.
- We now have thousands of security cameras on our trains and buses, throughout our train stations and platforms, at transit centers and in our parking lots. And brighter lighting recently installed at many of our stations acts as a further deterrent. If a crime occurs, we will review surveillance footage, identify the culprit, and work with local authorities to bring criminals to justice.
- We provide our riders and operators high-speed web access on all buses and trains, so if they see something, they can immediately call or send text messages, photos, or video to GCRTA Transit Police, so our 24/7 safety team can act quickly.
GCRTA also announced on April 13 that it is now taking applications to become a transit ambassador, posting a notice on its Twitter account.
Meanwhile, Rutherford believes riders also need to be involved in improving overall safety.
“If you see something that’s not quite right, be mindful of it," Rutherford said. "Contact police, by all means let them know, I hate what happened."