OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - As police continue to investigate assaults and mob-style robberies against riders, attacks on BART employees are also steadily rising. These are scenarios where station agents and train operators are kicked, spat on, punched, held hostage, threatened with weapons and pushed down stairwells, according to data obtained by 2 Investigates.
From 2013 to 2017, there were 20 reported violent attacks against BART train operators and 174 reported attacks against station agents, BART crimes data shows.
BART officials acknowledged that these attacks come at a time when BART is down police officers and would like to hire more to patrol more consistently and effectively.
“I never thought a simple questions to assist a passenger would lead to me being assaulted,” said ATU 1555 President Gena Alexander, who is also a train operator but on leave due to her current union position.
Alexander said when she was a station agent, a passenger waited for her to leave her booth and then spat and hit her. A struggle ensued resulting in the attacker pulling out Alexander’s hair. She suffered other injuries, which she said forced her to take time off work.
Year-to-year data on station agent and train operator assaults show the number of annual reports increasing in recent years. From 2015 to 2016, the annual number of reports about doubled. Yet the actual numbers of assaults are significantly higher, multiple train operators told 2 Investigates. They say a significant, yet unknown, number of cases go unreported.
As a train operator later in her career, Alexander said she faced similar situations. “It’s scary being the last train of the night and having to sweep [clear it of passengers] by yourself hoping and praying when you pull in, BART police is there to assist you,” she said.
BART train operator Marvin Jones said he was also attacked on the job during an end of line sweep. He said a man refusing to leave the train threw a phone and struck his face.
“If [the attackers] are going to do it to us, it’s just a matter of time it’s going to happen to passengers,” Jones said.
Station Agent Dana Reeves has been working for BART for 17 years and said she never had an incident until recently.
“I’ve been assaulted twice within the last two weeks,” Reeves said.
On Jan. 6, Reeves said she was closing the 16th and Mission BART station alone when a man on drugs forced himself into her booth trapping her inside. She said it was an unprovoked incident.
“I didn’t know if he had weapons. Is he going to kill me?” she said. “I want to defend myself but I don’t because I don’t want to lose my job.”
Alexander agreed saying, “There is a tendency by management to attack the employee and put them in the seat where they are the defendant.”
BART policy does in fact prohibit all employees from possessing any sort of weapon or self defense tool while on the job or face disciplinary procedures up to and including termination. In a statement, BART wrote, in part:
“Safety is our top priority at BART. That extends to not just to our riders by also our employees….If an employee feels they are in an unsafe situation we encourage them to try to create a safe distance between themselves and a potential threat. Our emphasis is on de-escalating a situation before it turns violent. Employees are trained to disengage, remain in a safe place, and contact BART Police immediately...If a BART worker finds themselves in a situation where they have no other recourse against an immediate threat, then they can defend themselves.”
BART Police Chief Carlos Rojas told 2 Investigates it is protocol for his officers to help train operators clear cars of passengers at the end of the night, but sometimes other high-priority calls force them to respond to something else. His department is working to hire more officers.
“Over time, the department lost personnel through attrition, retirement and other things. All of the suddenly you end up with 36 vacancies,” Rojas said. “What I can tell you, from a legal perspective, everybody has the right of self defense under the law.”