County leaders have launched a campaign to encourage more passengers to come forward, in an effort they say plays off the public's overall willingness to report misconduct.
The number of King County Metro Transit bus riders reporting sexual misconduct is growing.
And law-enforcement officers and leaders of the transit agency want all victims of such cases, including sexual harassment, lewd comments, indecent exposure or similar offenses, to feel safer.
The King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC), Metro Transit and the King County Sheriff’s Office have launched a campaign to increase awareness and support victims of sexual misconduct, after a widespread push for bus drivers, dispatchers and deputies to prioritize investigating such cases across Metro’s roughly 185-route system.
“We know that some of our customers, unfortunately, are either targeted or individually harassed by people who ride our system,” said Metro Transit General Manager Rob Gannon at a news conference announcing the effort Tuesday. “That cannot be.”
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According to data provided by Metro, the number of investigations for cases of sexual misconduct — which includes a spectrum of unwanted touching, communication, stalking or indecent exposure — has increased since the #MeToo movement launched last year.
Metro Transit police tallied 66 investigations last year — half of which came after the global social-media phenomenon and double the total of that in 2013.
The number has climbed over the five-year period, data provided by Metro show.
The new emphasis on reporting comes as institutions across the country and region — including public-transit networks from as far northwest as Vancouver, B.C., to as far east as Boston — reevaluate how they, too, handle sexual misconduct amid the nation’s reckoning over harassment against women.
Local law-enforcement officers and transit officials expect the upward trend of reporting to continue, as conversations around sexual harassment and violence evolve and the local campaign does its job.
“Now is the time because the awareness has changed, the willingness to speak out has changed,” KCSARC Executive Director Mary Ellen Stone said.
The New York City Transit Police and British Transport Police lead the way for raising this type of awareness and helped King County as it developed its local campaign, Metro Transit Police Maj. Dave Jutilla said.
County leaders began forming plans for this type of broad focus on sexual misconduct across Metro Transit last year.
Metro officials will put posters on buses — including one that depicts a woman with her hand out, with the phrase “Report it to stop it” — as well as push messages online and by talking to riders.
An agency spokesman could not immediately provide the cost of the effort.
To make a report, victims or witnesses can approach bus drivers, who have received training on how to respond by activating an emergency-alarm system or using their radios to contact the agency’s dispatch center, Jutilla said.
Or, passengers can call 911 or the Sheriff’s Office’s nonemergency line at 206-296-3311 to make a report, including information such as their bus and route numbers.
After riders talk to their driver or call, law enforcement will take over.
Metro Transit police, which is a subsection of the Sheriff’s Office, includes dozens of deputies who offer surveillance on buses, sometimes by riding along with passengers or doing periodic checks, Jutilla said.
Also, about half of Metro’s buses are equipped with cameras to help track or investigate threats against passengers and drivers. Metro is aiming to equip the entire fleet by the end of the year.
“We will make constitutionally sound arrests when it’s possible” and partner with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office to hold offenders accountable, Jutilla said.
Investigators will keep data on arrests and referrals to the Prosecutor’s Office, he said, to ensure transparency in that deputies have launched criminal investigations and charging proceedings are moving forward, when applicable.
Also, developers are in the process of making a mobile app for riders to report crimes and emergencies, which Metro Transit hopes to release to the public later this year, according to the agency.
Victims of sexual assault and harassment can call the KCSARC’s 24-hour line for immediate support at 1-888-998-6423.