$28M safety and security plan proposed for BART

Major upgrades are planned to make Bay Area Rapid Transit riders feel more safe including adding more cameras, police officers and surveillance technology following a recent series of violent attacks.

Over the past two weeks, BART staff has done a top-to-bottom security review and came up with a 12-point action plan costing roughly $28 million to improve safety both now and in the future. It’s considered critical to combating crime.

“We’re hoping our riders will see and feel that we are responsive,” BART spokesperson Alicia Trost said. “We are working to improve safety.”

One major change began Monday with BART officers working overtime for 12 hours a day and six days a week. As many as a dozen extra officers will ride BART during the day and at night. It will only last for three weeks, but stations known for having more crime or violent incidents will be heavily targeted.

The increased visible security comes after several knife attacks and violent incidents, including one where 18-year-old Nia Wilson and her sister were stabbed by a man at the MacArthur BART station last month. Wilson was killed.

“Having more officers at every point in the system absolutely helps being in the right place at the right time,” Trost explained. “It makes us able to act quickly, hold a train if we need to, take someone into custody, witness fare evasion and act appropriately. Those are the benefits of being able to have more boots on the ground.”

However, for years, BART Police Department has had an officer shortage with more than 40 open positions a couple years ago. Over the last year and a half, 28 officers have been hired but there are currently 25 vacancies. Part of the problem is competition with other departments, including a lower salary for a BART officers. BART explained it’s working on a more competitive salary and is increasing its recruiting efforts.

“Unfortunately we don’t have the staffing to have our officers on every train care of even every station,” Deputy Chief Lance Haight said. “We really rely on our ridership to be our eyes and ears and report those activities.”

More eyes could soon be popping up at BART stations, on trains and platforms. One of the new security proposals includes upgrading the 4,000 cameras BART has at a cost of $15 million. Additionally, there’s a call for more money spent on adding closed circuit television screen on all platforms in hopes of deterring crime. First, many of the analog cameras have to be replaced with high definition ones.

“Let’s get them all replaced and put HD camera in and speed it up,” Trost said. “If we do it as quickly as possible we think that’s going to help.”

Another proposal is a $4 million surveillance network that can monitor live streams from the cameras and automatically alert police to a ‘disruption’ or anything out of the ordinary on trains or platforms. A test launch will be done at the Lake Merritt station very soon.

Additional security measures proposed and before the BART Board Thursday include raising barriers to stop people at the ticket gates and add 10 fare inspectors to prevent ticket evaders.

BART will also consider passing a ‘no panhandling’ ordinance, launch a ride safety outreach campaign and add platform emergency call boxes as part of the total price tag of the security plan. In the end police hop it will improve safety, security and peace of mind.

“BART overall generally speaking is very safe,” Haight said. “We have over 400,000 riders a day and the vast majority of riders make it from their original station to their destination without any incident whatsoever.”

The BART Police Department has also contracted with the University of North Texas to develop a five year strategic patrol staffing plan, which comes out next month. The deputy chief said it will show BART critically needs to add more officers.

To immediately call police or to report suspicious activity, BART has created an app called ‘BART Watch’ for smartphones where riders can upload photos and share information regarding potential security or safety issues.