House resolution will ramp up protection for public transit operators

Feb 27, 2023, 6:09 PM | Updated: 7:11 pm

SALT LAKE CITY –– The Utah House Transportation Committee passed a joint resolution to focus on protecting transit operators from assaults Monday.

House Joint Resolution 26, or HJR 26, focuses on increasing transit operator safety, specifically protecting them from potential attackers. This resolution comes after the number of reported assaults on Utah operators grew 46% in the past five years.

In 2017 there were 156 reported assaults on Utah Transit Operators, fast forward to 2022, and that number rose to 227.

“These are not just people that are drugged out or have mental illnesses. When you look at these incidents, they are from people who just can’t control their anger as well,” said Jay Fox, Executive Director of Utah Transit Authority, during the committee hearing.

The resolution’s sponsor Rep. Paul Cutler, R-Davis County, said there are laws already in place that prosecute criminals involved in assaults, but prosecutors aren’t enforcing those laws. One of those assaulted UTA operators took to the podium to express the need for ramped-up safety.

“I did have six staples in the back of my head, punctured an ear drum. I still have permanent redness in my left eye; it seems like he was trying to gauge my eye out,” said Neil, UTA driver. “He was kicking and punching me… the fact is it happened on UTA property. It could have happened to anyone; it just happened to be the guy there.”

During the hearing, Cutler said the resolution would not only protect transit operators, but it would send a message to the public that recent behaviors are unacceptable.

“We need to recruit more operators, and as a legislature, we have the opportunity to say, ‘hey, the work you do is important, and we support you,’ we want to recognize your worth and attract more people to this honorable profession,” Cutler said.

As of Monday, an officer is dedicated to UTA’s Salt Lake Unit to watch for these kinds of incidents and talk with operators after an assault, but the number of assaults continues to rise.

The resolution passed out of committee with a favorable recommendation and now heads to the Senate floor.

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House resolution will ramp up protection for public transit operators