BART to install new cameras amid public safety concerns about decoy cameras

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After BART’s widespread use of decoy cameras became public knowledge last month, BART announced plans last week to install functioning cameras in all 669 train cars in its current fleet.

BART’s security measures were discovered when police found decoy cameras on a train where a fatal shooting at the West Oakland station occurred. In response to public outcry, BART plans to spend $1.42 million to install high-definition cameras on existing trains.

Robert Raburn, a member of the BART Board of Directors who supervises stations in Oakland and Alameda, said that the onboard cameras and decoys were installed over the last three decades as a preventative measure against vandalism, but they have since grown outdated.

Only 17 percent of cameras are real, and functioning cameras are low-quality, according to Raburn.

“The old equipment is not up to standard except to tell whether someone’s wearing a white t-shirt or a dark hoodie,Raburn said.

Camera surveillance currently exists on platforms and at the entrances to stations, as well as on police officers themselves. BART spokesperson Alicia Trost said that decoys are commonly used as crime deterrents but only work when people believe they’re being recorded.

The installation began as of Friday, according to a BART press release. Trost said that while a timeline has not been set for the project’s completion, cameras will be installed incrementally in order to prevent delays to current service.

Trost maintained that current functioning cameras produce clear images and video. She added that BART’s chief concern is ensuring the public feels safe, and she encouraged customers to voice their feedback on the BART website or through public comment at Board of Directors meetings.

Passengers expressed mixed reactions to the news that many of BART’s onboard cameras are decoys.

“With their constant advertising of crime deterrents, you would think a lot more of them would be real,” said Jeff Woods, a UC Berkeley senior and BART passenger.

Other passengers expressed indifference to the changes.

“I can understand why people are afraid, but I don’t think cameras would have had an impact on what happened,” said Florian Keiser at the Downtown Berkeley station, referring to the January shooting at the West Oakland station.

New cameras will also arrive with a fleet of 770 BART cars set for installation beginning in 2017. Trost said that old cars modified with new cameras will still see usage during the transition.

To assuage safety concerns in the meantime, BART has also launched a BART Watch app to give passengers the ability to send anonymous tips directly to BART police, Raburn said.

Funds for the new cameras will be pulled from BART’s budget for capital projects, with BART “aggressively” pursuing funding through federal grants. Since 2001, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has also contributed funding for security measures.

“We’re an agency with very little capital budgets to spend,” Raburn said. “If our revenues are lower than expected, we’re going to have to make some hard choices.”

Contact Alexander Barreira and Alex Fang at [email protected].