Head of police union criticizes BART plan to hire social workers

BART is planning to fill six vacant BART police officer positions with trained, but unarmed, social workers.

The social workers or crisis intervention specialists would be paired with a police officer.

Their goal would be to help connect people in obvious need of services.

"We wanted to reimagine public safety. And we wanted to put resources that are not necessarily armed police officers, who are not always the best response," says BART Board of Director Bevan Dufty.

"I think it's an amazing idea. We live in a society where cops have become the answer to every social ill. And that's not their job. It's not what we want them to do. And it's not what they are trained to do," says Cat Brooks, head of Justice Teams Network in Oakland.

Records show about 40% of BART police calls were for well-being or medical calls

"Our BART officers are responding to people in crisis, who are living on the street, day after day. We want to break the cycle. And we want to do a better job," says Dufty.

Keith Garcia, who heads the BART Police Officers Association, says the department is already short-staffed.

It was looking to hire 17 more officers this year.  With funding for six going toward social workers, the department can now afford only 11 new officers

"I don't think it helps any of the safety and security of the BART system. I think it will actually hurt it. Because it will reduce the footprint of sworn officers," says Garcia.

The sense of safety of many passengers was rocked in 2018 when a mentally-ill stranger stabbed 18-year-old Nia Wilson to death at the MacArthur BART Station in Oakland.

"The money would be better spent hardening the system and putting sworn officers at the entrances of the stations," says Garcia.

"People are going to see things differently. They are going to see us actually getting the help people to need," says Dufty.