Spread thin, BART struggling with shortage of officers

- When people complain that they never see a BART police officer on a train or at a station, Deputy BART Police Chief Ed Alvarez offers this to riders. "Although they may not see an officer every day on the BART system, we're out there. It's tough to get to be on the trains, on the platform, in the stations and also, in the parking lots," said the Deputy Chief.

By definition, that means the BART Police force is spread thin. Currently, BART has 185 sworn officers, and is trying to hire 40 more.

So, consider this: BART's 47 stations are sprawled out of 112 miles of track. It currently has 669 cars to make up its trains. It also has 50,000 spaces in its many parking lots.

The department works three shifts, all day, all night; whether or not the trains are operating. "You know, we're responsible 24/7 for the BART District. Just because there are not patrons on the system we still have vehicles that are left over night and we still have people that come on to the property to commit crimes," said Alvarez.

Only Chicago's Caltrain-like Metro and Salt Lake's UTA system have fewer transit cops. New York, New Jersey, Boston, Baltimore and Philadelphia have more.

So we asked the American Public Transit Association's security expert, a former transit police chief: given the increasing importance of mass transit, are transit law enforcement agencies understaffed?

"There's no one set model for how you police or secure a transit system, so there are many variables that come into place on how you decide to staff your system. I think that's up to a community and I think that's up to the BART community to have a conversation about the right kind of number," said Polly Hanson of the American Public Transit Association.

Even with available slots, it's hard to get qualified applicants. "Transit is competing against other types of law enforcement: university police, park police, state police, city police for those recruits, for those applicants," said Hanson.

So, transit police have to depend on others: local police, transit employees and, most importantly, passengers.

"We rely on our passengers to be our eyes and ears and, as a result of that, we also developed an app called "BARTwatch" that we pushed out to our ridership to help report crime because our officers can't be everywhere," says BART Police Deputy Chief Alvarez.

The more BART expands, into Santa Clara County, farther east with eBART and more and more passengers, BART will surely need more officers.

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