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The BART fix: Can police department change after Grant shooting?

By dcuff
Friday, October 2nd, 2009 at 12:04 pm in BART, rail, Safety.

In the saga of BART’s response to the police shooting of unarmed train rider Oscar Grant III, a few things seemed destined to happen.

First, the transit board members said publicy they were sorry about the shooting. This was in early January during the board’s first meeting after passenger-shot videos showed a transit officer shooting Grant in the back as he lay prone on a station platform. The office has since resigned and been charged with murder.

Then yesterday the board promised to fix the transit police department.

Board members said they would take to heart and follow outside auditors’ 303-page blueprint for overhauling training, discipline, monitoring of use of force, management structure, community relations, and other aspects of the police force.

Some critics of BART suggest that both acts were no-brainers for BART, and prove nothing of what the train system will do once the television cameras are turned off.

Board members, however, said they are serious about making changes to restore public trust in BART and its police force.

What’s emerged in a series of news stories and BART reports this year is lack of clear vision and performance objectives for the police force.  

That was a clear message in the $127,000 report by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives known as NOBLE – as well as a poll the group took of 109 sworn officers and civilian employees in the BART police force.

“These problems didn’t develop overnight,” said Jesse Sekhon, president of the BART Police Officers Association. “I think BART has to decide on its vision for BART police.”

One work tension BART police struggle with is that the public’s top priority is seeing officers on trains, yet more crime occurs in BART’s massive parking lots where burglars find a reliable supply of some 40,000 cars a day as irresistible chance to steal.  

On the positive side, said NOBLE auditors, the Oscar Grant shooting has created an opportunity for BART to do what every police department should do every so often: examine how it’s doing and make adjustments to improve how it prevents and solves crimes.

NOBLE auditors said BART employees have been “painfully truthful” about discussing the shortcomings of the the police force, and that has helped produce a strong audit. 

“You have a great opportunity here,” said Patrick Oliver, a former police chief who directs the criminal justice program at Cedarville University in Ohio . “You have all the tools to do it.”  




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