BART police are adopting a more community-oriented law enforcement strategy, designed to increase officer accountability and help identify systemic crime problems.
The department has shifted its coverage zones to ensure that officers become more familiar with the beats they cover, Deputy Chief of Police Operations Ben Fairow announced Tuesday. Instead of simply responding to crimes that have been reported or in progress, officers will henceforth focus on developing relationships with passengers and building rapport with community members, Fairow said.
Tensions between the department and BART passengers, particularly minority riders, have been high in recent years following two officer-involved shootings.
In 2009, Officer Johannes Mehserle shot and killed unarmed passenger Oscar Grant on an Oakland platform. Last July, BART officers fatally shot 45-year-old transient Charles Hill following a 25-second confrontation at the Civic Center Station.
Fairow said the new BART strategy wouldn’t necessarily result in a greater police presence on trains or station platforms, but officers would be more responsible for specific stations under the deployment plan. By interacting with passengers, officers will get a greater understanding of problems unique to different stations, he said. That will let the department efficiently allocate resources to address each station’s needs, Fairow said.
Despite the strategy change, some organizations remain skeptical of BART’s commitment to the community.
“This is a small drop in a very big bucket,” said Abel Habtegeorgis of the Ella Baker Center, an Oakland-based civil rights organization.
Habtegeorgis said passengers still have a general distrust of BART’s police department, and it will take a change in the actions of officers — not just policy decisions — before that trust is restored.
“We want to see the police officers more engaged with the community,” Habtegeorgis said. “But right now, this is not enough to make up for the lives lost.”
Fairow said the policy change has been developed to align with modern policing strategies and was prompted by the arrival of Chief Kenton Rainey, who joined the department in July 2010.
“If you’re encouraging officers to have ownership with the problems in their specific areas, they’re going to establish relationships with their customers and communities,” Fairow said. “From there, you’re going to see an improvement in how things are enforced.”
BART has expanded its police zones from four to five. Here is what each new zone will cover:
Zone 1: Oakland
Zone 2: Contra Costa County and City of Berkeley
Zone 3: Alameda County except for Oakland and Berkeley
Zone 4: San Francisco
Zone 5: San Mateo County