BART unveils new community-based policing structure

Under fire after an audit report questioned its use of force and organization, the Bay Area Rapid Transit Police Department unveiled plans Tuesday for a zoning structure that aims to reduce crime.

BART’s new Zone Geographical Policing Structure is the department’s most recent answer to recommendations made by the 2011 National Organization of Black Law Enforcement audit report, in which BART police approaches and methods of crime prevention were strongly criticized.

The audit, which was presented nine months after the killing of Oscar Grant — who was shot by a BART police officer in January 2009 — called for a more community-based crime prevention system to address what it identified as a lack of organization among officers, a lack of clarity regarding policy on use of force and the potential for racial profiling by the department.

BART Deputy Police Chief Ben Fairow said in a press conference Tuesday that the zoning change will address the audit’s recommendation that the department “develop and implement an ongoing strategy for involving the community in assessing the quality and scope of police services.” The number of zones will increase from four to five, with one lieutenant assigned to head each zone along with a team of officers, according to Fairow.

Fairow said he anticipates that the change in policing structure will cause increased foot patrol time and an increase in the number BART officers on the trains.

Fairow said at the conference that this new structure will help accomplish the goal of community-based crime prevention, part of a larger effort called COPPS, which is an organizationwide philosophy to “improve public safety and increase police visibility,” according to a 2010 press release from BART.

Fairow pointed out that there is a difference between traditional “incident”-based and community-oriented police strategies.

“In (community-oriented strategies) rather than addressing the symptoms, we look for the root causes,” Fairow said.

The new zoning system will assist in this, according to Fairow, in that it will facilitate a customized local approach to problems and increased accountability of individual lieutenants to their respective zones.

Fairow did not address at the press conference how the department would respond to the rest of the audit’s allegations.