Examiner Editorial: BART police oversight bill needs action today 

Even when a straightforward political goal is clearly needed and commonly agreed upon, formidable procedural barriers can block the way. That is exactly what the push to establish meaningful citizen oversight of the BART police must overcome today in a state Assembly Public Safety Committee hearing.

The New Year’s 2009 killing of Oscar Grant III on the Fruitvale BART station platform by then-Officer Johannes Mehserle moved the BART management review of police force policies, procedures and professionalization to urgent status. This led to 25 public meetings and a comprehensive study of the most effective citizen oversight formats nationwide.

The result was a plan appearing to have community support and acceptance from other stakeholders. However, for the BART board of directors and the management team to make sweeping changes on overseeing the police force, the state Legislature must sign off.

The transit agency wants to create a citizen oversight structure that includes an 11-member citizen board as well as the Office of Independent Police Auditor. The bill arrived in Sacramento too late last year to get past the last-minute legislative logjam.

BART is trying again this year, with Assembly Bill 1586 sponsored by Oakland Assemblyman Sandré Swanson. Today’s Public Safety Committee hearing is the first step in getting the bill passed into law so that establishment of the oversight board and the hiring of a police auditor can proceed.

But complicating the situation is the fact that, along with AB 1586, the hearing will also consider a competing bill — AB 312, sponsored by Public Safety Committee Chairman Tom Ammiano.

Ammiano’s bill is based on San Francisco’s Office of Citizen Complaints format, but limits citizen involvement. AB 1586 language was derived from the input of extensive community meetings, and it establishes a citizen board with a wider mission than exclusively hearing police misconduct complaints.

Another perhaps unnecessarily cumbersome aspect of Ammiano’s bill is that it calls for the police auditor nominee to be selected just by three county district attorneys and the BART Board, instead of being recruited by parties closer to the needs of the community, the department and the transit agency.

Meanwhile, the legislative clock is ticking. A citizen oversight bill must be passed out of committee by the end of January or the BART community’s demands will be stymied for another year.

We urge members of the state Assembly Public Safety Committee to support AB 1586, which will allow transparency to the complaints and grievances the public lodges against BART officers. It will provide accountability and independent review of police policies.

After the tragedy of the BART 2009 New Year’s shooting, the public is entitled to have its citizen oversight transparency without another year’s delay caused by fiddling with paperwork.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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