Survey: More BART police officers needed on trains, in stations

BART Police - File Photo

A small and unscientific survey shows overwhelming support for more police officers on BART trains and in the stations, but not all respondents said swelling the force is the best way to reduce crime and violence. 

The Bay Area Council, a San Francisco Bay Area public-policy advocacy organization, surveyed roughly 1,650 people in San Francisco and parts of Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties who follow them Twitter. 

Roughly 75 percent of those who responded to the poll said more police officers are the answer to reducing crime and public health problems on the transit system. 

"This is an overwhelming plea for help to aggressively increase public safety on BART," said Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council. "Many BART riders have little choice but to use the system and it's unfair to them to keep them hostage to a system where they don't feel safe.”
 But more than 400 people surveyed said adding additional BART police officers is not the answer. 

“Hell no! That means more possible cop shootings,’’ said one respondent. 

Another person who answered the Twitter survey said: “It’s more dangerous for black people and people of color for there to be an increased police presence on BART, so no. They are overwhelming the targets of harassment and violence by cops.”

Bay Area Council spokesman Rufus Jeffris, said comments also showed that some people still don’t trust BART police because of the fatal shooting of unarmed Oscar Grant by transit officer Johannes Mehserle on the platform of the Fruitvale station nearly 10 years ago.

“There are concerns about (police) being too heavy handed,” he said. “They are not always viewed as a friend.” 
Addressing issues, such as homelessness, drug use, and mental illness, that can lead to problems on BART was touted by some as a better way to reduce crime and violence system-wide, Jeffris said. 

BART’s Board of Directors last week voted unanimously to ask the general manager to revive a plan to allow BART to work with cities, counties, elected officials, and community-based organization to address the homeless crisis and services for those with mental illness.

The Twitter survey comes after several high-profile crimes in July, including the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Nia Wilson on the MacArthur BART Station platform, and the fatal attack on a 47-year-old homeless man on the platform at the Bay Fair BART Station.

It also comes just days after BART’s board of directors approved only a portion of a 12-point, $28 million safety and security plan. 

Last Thursday, the board approved a plan to spend $15 million to upgrade 4,000 surveillance cameras in stations, parking lots and garages over the next four and a half years. The board also voted to spend more than $5 million over two years to install thee emergency call boxes on each BART platform so passengers could speak directly to BART Police dispatchers. BART officials say the intercoms would be an improvement over the white courtesy phones that currently connect passengers to station agent booths. 

The Bay Area Council has been urging the board to pursue a “mutual aid response” that would allow local and regional law enforcement agencies to assist BART police. 

"We need swift, forceful and sustained action to avoid future violent attacks and restore public confidence in the Bay Area's largest mass transit system,’’ said Wunderman. “Like we do in cases of natural disasters and other extreme emergencies, we must mobilize local law enforcement to partner with BART as it works to address a troubling spike in violent crime in the system.

Board members have indicated support for seeking help from outside law enforcement, but have not voted on such a plan.

In a statement, BART said “We appreciate the Bay Area Council's leadership and share their commitment to keeping our region safe.  BART already operates under mutual aid with neighboring law enforcement agencies.  Other departments respond to the scene if they have an officer closer to an incident than we do.  We then coordinate with each other and handle a hand-off.” 

However, the statement says “collective bargaining agreements make clear that only BART Police may provide security at BART.  But that doesn't mean another agency can't respond to an on-going incident if we need their assistance.This coordination and cooperation is already taking place. “

Moving forward, the board will hold a special meeting over the next several weeks to gather input from community members about other possible safety and security reforms, including a proposed panhandling ban and fare gate barriers.