OAKLAND, Calif. - BART showcased their push to keep the commuter rail system safe as readership increases. BART is saying a combination of officers, crisis intervention teams and ambassadors are helping make the system safer for everyone.
As more people return to in-person work, BART is seeing an increase in riders. More than 115,000 this past Monday, 10,000 more than the Monday before; and as ridership increases BART’s police chief is reassuring passengers: The system is safe.
"They're coming back to a system that has a renewed focus on safety," said Chief Ed Alvarez from the BART Police Department. "We're a police department that is putting riders first through a focus on our visible presence on trains and in stations."
Part of that increased visibility is augmenting their force with ambassadors and crisis intervention specialists who can act as eyes and ears throughout the system. The crisis intervention specialists often have backgrounds in social work, so they can help those having a mental health crisis or who are homeless.
"Like the gentleman that just walked through, he doesn't have a place to stay tonight," said Tammy Donleavy, one of BART Police's Crisis Intervention Specialists. "So, I'm going to follow up with him, I've got his cell phone number to try to get him into a Richmond shelter."
BART's police chief says even adjusting for decreased ridership, violent crime in 2021 was down 36% from what it was in 2020, overall crime was down 17%. He says the ambassadors and crisis intervention specialists allow officers to focus on crime.
"That was the ultimate plan, is to use these resources, these crisis intervention specialists to help take some of the calls for service, the welfare checks and things like that from our officers in the field," said Chief Alvarez.
BART rider Deborah Quinn says she frequently sees people using BART as a shelter, but overall doesn't feel afraid. "Obviously they're just looking for a warm place to lay their heads," said Quinn. "So, but overall I feel pretty safe."
As passengers return, BART’s leadership says it will work to continue to make the system safer. "We are sorta out there, scrappy, want to get those rider back so we are very focused on having that security presence," said Bevan Dufty from BART's Board of Directors.
BART's police chief says he currently has about 415 sworn officers on duty. Meanwhile, there are currently 10 ambassadors and 15 crisis intervention specialists currently circulating through the BART system. Bart says it is actively recruiting 5 more crisis intervention specialists and 25 more police officers.