King County Metro Transit Police will soon be able to monitor bus passengers, with the help of tiny, black digital video cameras. Since late February, Metro, which recently got a $1.5 million federal grant to beef up Metro's police presence, has been installing prototypes of the cameras inside buses, and hopes to have 160 cameras fully operational by September.

Since 1998, when a bus driver was shot on the Aurora Bridge, Metro has slowly made changes to increase security. For example, the King County Sheriff's Department, which heads up the Metro Transit police, increased its transit staffing from eight officers in 1998 to over 27 now. (Off-duty Seattle Police Department officers make up the rest of the 300-plus transit force.) Though assaults and vandalism on buses were down from last year, Metro hopes the new "bus cams" will lower the numbers even further. "Hopefully people will be on better behavior if they know they are being watched," says Metro spokesperson Linda Thielke. The $7,800 cameras, installed on bus ceilings and directly behind the driver, send out a radio signal that an officer can intercept with a modified laptop. The officer can then watch what's going on aboard the bus in "real time," or download the information later. Metro insists that only transit police officers will be able to view the videos, and hopes to have more cameras on buses next year.