Unpredictable Bus Rider

There are several professions where employees/practitioners are subjected to the same cross section of society as police officers: emergency room doctors and nurses, paramedics, fire fighters, teachers, grocery store cashiers and bus drivers.  Besides the obvious daily interaction between police and others in the emergency response and medical fields, police officers and bus drivers are on familiar terms stemming from their service to the general public.

Here’s the difference – if a person is aggressive towards a police officer, the officer has many options, the least of which is having radio contact to dozens of other officers.   A bus driver, on the other hand, is at a disadvantage as he or she is seated behind the wheel of a large, somewhat cumbersome vehicle. The main door is to the driver’s right and a small window is to the driver’s left.  It is in this confined space that bus drivers are occasionally confronted by angry, intoxicated or just plain mean passengers.  Even though the bus driver has access to communication by either radio or phone, he or she does not have access to the ‘tools’ police officers are privy to (handcuffs, OC spray, baton) and there have been incidents where drivers have been assaulted and injured.  Steps are being taken to mitigate the risks to drivers, with cameras being installed on buses, proposed safety shields around the driver compartment, and increased security and police presence at bus loops and skytrain stations.  All of these steps are welcome and needed, but the drivers out on isolated routes are still at risk.

Take, for instance, the bus driver who flagged me down last summer.  I was parked at the side of the road writing a report when honking drew my attention to a bus stopped a short distance away. The driver was waving his arm out of the window in a ‘get over here’ motion.  A glance at the bus showed there were about a dozen people on board.  Wondering what the driver wanted, I parked in front of the bus, got out and started back to towards the driver.  Then I saw the reason for the driver’s frantically waving arm.  There was a very large, very angry man storming up and down the main aisle, yelling, swinging off the hand-hold bars and intimidating everyone on the bus.

I radiod in the disturbance and returned to my truck to get PSD Hondo.  In the few moments it took me to do this the man had made his way to the front of the bus.  The man’s body was hunched in anger, his shoulders tense and his face distorted as he screamed obscenities at the driver.  The front door opened as I approached and I yelled up to the man to come outside and talk to me instead.

The man turned.  His face was flushed, his eyes were red and glassy and his speech was slurred with intoxication.  He looked in my direction; the man was huge and outweighed me by about 100 pounds.  His first comments had to do with the notion that he’d rather be wrangling with a tall blond versus the male bus driver.  He got off the bus and took a few staggered steps towards me seemingly intent on making his physical introduction. 

Did I feel threatened?  Yes.  Did I know this big man could seriously hurt me?  Hell, yes.  That’s when I took a multiple steps backwards and gave Hondo a command, to which my dog  responded by springing forward to the end of his leash, barking his own warning at the approaching man.

The man stopped.  He stood there, yelling and waving his arms around, swinging his big ham-fists towards both me and Hondo, saying he was going to seriously mess us up (in more ways than one).  I requested that my cover units step it up a bit and retreated a few more steps, all the while trying to talk the guy down.  By this time, Hondo was in a frenzy, rearing up onto his back legs at the man’s repeated air punches – the guy would knock my head clear of my shoulders if one of those punches landed.  I could have engaged him at that point but I thought it wiser and safer to create more distance and wait.

Sirens were growing louder when the man lowered his arms, which was somehow worse – his shoulders were still hunched, his hands were still balled into fists, and he was standing on his toes as if weighing his chances of getting to me before my cover units got to him.  That’s when I growled at him.

“You take one more step and I’m letting the dog go.”

The man looked at the barking dog and visibly weighed his chances again (Tall blond = good. Big dog in protection mode = not so good).  The man tipped his head to the side, his lips pressed into a thin line.  Then he turned his back on us and put his hands behind his back.

Just like that. 

We stood in this plateau until additional units arrived to handcuff the man and transport him away.  Afterwards, I spoke to the bus driver, who thanked all of us for helping get the intoxicated and violent man off of his bus.  My own nerves were still singing with adrenalin and I could not help but think of how intimidating the man must have been to the group of passengers and to the driver.  Then it my turn to thank the bus driver for doing what he does, which is to deal with the public everyday and in every possible situation. 

For doing a job I couldn’t do, and for doing it well.

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