RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Following a series of reported assaults on and around GRTC buses in recent months, a spokesperson said there are plans to install real-time surveillance cameras on the buses, as well as public viewing monitors.
“The monitors will provide evidence,” Organizational Advancement Manager Ashley Mason said in a statement to 8News. “Video surveillance is being used and will increase awareness on the bus. These measures are to protect operators and riders as we continue to explore safety options.”
The statement was sent in response to the Richmond Police Department (RPD) arrest of an assault and homicide suspect. 24-year-old Dexter Superville, Jr. was taken into custody in connection to the Oct. 11 assault of a GRTC driver, who was standing outside his bus on Route 1 at the time. Superville has been accused of knocking the driver to the ground and kicking him in the head.
Superville was also charged in connection to the murder of 22-year-old Jonathan Contreras, who was shot and killed while riding a GRTC bus on Nov. 9, 2021. Police said that the shooter boarded the bus on Midlothian Turnpike near the Labrook Concourse and got into an argument with Contreras. The bus driver then pulled over near Southside Plaza on Hull street and several people exited before Contreras was shot.
“Our mission (in part) at GRTC is to provide safe transportation options. Over the years, we have installed partitions on our buses which offer a separation between operators and riders,” Mason said. “Our training department conducts ongoing de-escalation training exercises, which aid in reducing verbal and physical conflicts. We also have enhanced direct communication between our dispatch team and operators on the street.”
When 8News reached out for more information on the proposed real-time surveillance cameras, Mason responded with a statement.
“Our goal is still to install the surveillance cameras in the coming months,” Mason said. “The surveillance cameras do not record, nor do they need activation. They are similar to the surveillance cameras you see in a grocery store, on the hygiene aisle. When you walk down the aisle you see yourself on camera, making you aware of surveillance.”
A list of the transit system’s current projects and plans on its website does not include these security changes.
State Del. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond) is taking it a step further.
“House Bill 2330 is a bill that I submitted to address issues of assault on transit operators,” she told 8News on Wednesday. “During COVID, that period, it’s appeared to be an escalation in assault and battery against individuals who were, I call them, essential employees. The first line of defense for many of us, and individuals who, when everyone else had locked down, they continued to do the work that needed to be done to transport individuals from one place to the other.”
First presented on Jan. 12, HB 2330 has garnered support in the House. The measure would make it a Class 1 misdemeanor for a person to commit a battery against another “knowing or having reason to know that such individual is an operator of a vehicle operated by a public transportation service who is engaged in the performance of his duties.” If passed, the bill would require a conviction on such a charge to carry a two-day mandatory minimum and a maximum of 15 days behind bars.
“They are in some vulnerable positions. They are basically shut in, in a little corner […] on the bus, which is in the front of the bus where individuals are getting off and on every day,” McQuinn said about GRTC drivers. “To not have them supported by those of us who are leaders and in these positions, I think, would be such a disservice to the work that they’re doing and to the commitment that they have made to be a part of the transit system.”
GRTC provides monthly safety data during its Board meetings. The number of assaults in each month of 2022 is listed below:
“I’m not talking about if you abuse somebody verbally,” McQuinn said. “If you put your hands on that individual, then I think that there should be some time that’s given for you to think about what you have done, and I’m hoping that my colleagues will be able to push this through.”
The delegate noted that there will likely be opposition to this measure in the Senate, where lawmakers have taken issue with mandatory minimums.
“I, in the past, have taken that position, as well,” she said. “My hope is that if they do something like that, they may get some time, but also not be banned from the bus.”
8News also asked Del. McQuinn about whether she would support the placement of police or security officers on public transportation in Virginia. She said that she did not want to militarize the Commonwealth’s public transit systems, and was instead hopeful that this measures instituting a mandatory minimum would help deter crime.
But former police chief and longtime security consultant Mike Jones disagrees.
“I would much rather prevent a driver from being assaulted than have a movie of it by having an armed security guard there to stop it,” he said. “Some of these assaults occur while the driver is actually driving, and perhaps changing the law — instead of two days as a misdemeanor, consider making it a felony for assaulting a driver engaged in the actual operation of the vehicle.”
With the implementation of new security measures, though, comes a cost.
“You’ve got to create a cadres of staff to watch those cameras real-time,” Jones said. “How do you predict that you’re about to be the victim of a crime? You don’t.”
In GRTC’s 2021 annual report, then-CEO Julie Timm highlighted de-escalation training, as well as situational awareness skills.
“I would spend my training time elsewhere,” Jones said. “If something happens on that bus, it’s moving and you can’t do de-escalation, and the fact that you’ve got such a huge vehicle with a number of people, and if you get assaulted, that’s bad news all the way around. So, I think, not having a jerk reaction to safety, but having a deliberate, thought-out approach would go a long way.”