The Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART) plans to drastically increase its police officer presence on trains in order to ensure public safety and boost ridership.
According to BART officials, by mid-March, the Bay Area train system will more than double its amount of foot patrols to maximize riders’ safety and improve cleanliness amid a decline in passengers.
Janice Li, the BART board president, called the move a “radically new deployment plan” that will “increase presence on trains more than we’ve ever done before.”
According to BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost, the train company currently has a total of 10 officers on foot patrol splitting their shifts.
Under the new plan, there will be 18 BART police patrolling stations and trains each shift.
Trost said that since the pandemic, ridership has heavily decreased due to less people going to work and a lagging economy.
Indeed, nearly three years after the pandemic began, BART passengers are 60% reduced and remain on a decline.
“We had baked-in ridership before the pandemic, people had to go to work and they didn’t want to be in the cars,” Trost said. “That is no longer the case and we now have to fight for ridership and market for ridership and be responsive to the needs of potential riders.”
According to officials, BART will use the remainder of its $1.6 billion pandemic relief money to enhance public safety and attract riders.
However, BART board members said the money will run out earlier than expected — in January 2025.
A survey of 3,000 riders conducted by the agency found that security and cleanliness were the foremost issues among riders, with one commuter stating: “As I fill out this survey, I’m sitting next to a piece of aluminum foil that was used to smoke heroin.”
In addition to boosting law enforcement presence, BART also doubled its cleaning hours and tripled staffing on its stations’ cleaning crews.
In response to concerns from activists about over-policing, BART board member and police reform advocate Lateefah Simon assured that the train operator’s police officers have received de-escalation training that goes beyond the state’s standards.
She also said that BART is also utilizing a team of crisis intervention specialists to assist officers in mental health calls.
“People don’t want to feel alone in a system that is not deeply populated. We need to put all of our staff on deck. It’s not just our police, it is all of our staff that needs to be very visible,” Simon said. “We’re saying to BART police, instead of being in your car hanging out, be in the system — walk and say hi to people.”
Shane Reiss, president of BART’s police union, said some officers were resistant to the idea of increasing foot patrols and reassigning BART’s K-9 team to patrol duty.
“Some people don’t like change. But the majority overwhelmingly will support it and try and make it succeed,” Reiss said. “We are going to saturate every train and hit every train in Oakland and San Francisco.”
However, low staffing levels could pose difficulties for the plan.
BART currently staffs 173 sworn officers, 16% less than what the agency was in August 2018.
There are currently 60 vacant patrol positions including injured personnel or police recruits still training in the academy.
“We don’t have enough bodies to patrol the system the way it needs to be done,” Reiss said. “It’s basically all-hands-on-deck because we’re so short.”