BART has reported positive feedback from riders following updated safety measures, which include an increase in police presence in March. However, not all riders attribute feelings of safety to these changes.
BART Director Rebecca Saltzman noted that different areas of crime increase and decrease over time, adding that trends reflect the types of crimes that occur in cities located near BART stations.
“Crimes are cyclical, just like it is with the rest of the Bay Area,” Saltzman said.
However, she noted BART’s rapid police response time as a possible deterrent for potential crime. Saltzman added that BART Police Department, or BART PD, response time is down to four minutes; BART PD presence includes police and unarmed crisis intervention specialists.
In addition, BPD’s recent Quarterly Performance Report results indicate that riders are recognizing BART’s safety presence now more than ever, according to BPD Department Deputy Chief Chris Vogan.
“The percentage of riders in the survey who reported seeing BPD on their trip the day they were questioned increased to 17%, a whopping 90% jump from the previous quarter,” Vogan said in an email. “That exceeds BART’s official goal of 12% for the first time in history.”
Saltzman echoed this sentiment, noting her appreciation that riders are beginning to notice police presence on train cars and in stations.
The presence of unarmed crisis intervention specialists and transit ambassadors have also increased since March, according to a BART safety report.
Saltzman said BART police officers, crisis intervention specialists and transit ambassadors all work under BART PD, and dispatch decides who to send depending on the crisis.
“It was a positive development that they have developed a crisis intervention team,” said Andrea Prichett, a founding member of Berkeley Copwatch. “Unfortunately, that model they developed still (reflects) police response.”
Prichett took issue with the idea that crisis intervention specialists often appear similar to typical officers. To the untrained eye, she said, their matching uniforms, utility belts and officer badge numbers may make an individual “fear that they are being detained instead of serviced.”
Campus student Lauren Fitzgerald said they have used BART almost daily since childhood. They noted always feeling safe riding BART, even at night, but that increased police presence has not contributed to that.
“I don’t personally feel safer at the presence of cops, and I recognize that many people even feel unsafe with their presence,” Fitzgerald said. “I also recognize that many people do feel safe having police, especially tourists.”
While they don’t know if there is “one right answer,” Fitzgerald said the Crisis Intervention Specialist and Transit Ambassador programs could be larger in comparison with traditional amounts of police presence.
Fitzgerald instead pointed to high ridership and a sense of community as what makes them feel safest while riding BART. They noted that safety announcements on the platform and being able to contact the conductor with the updated technology in the fleet also helps, along with younger riders using BART more frequently.
“People are taking BART on weekends and at night and to social events,” Fitzgerald said. “You feel safer because there’s a much more diverse crowd taking it and taking it for different reasons.”
Vogen cited the power of visible safety presence as a benefit of deterring unwanted behavior.
In addition to boosting BPD personnel presence, shortening the number of cars for each train has allowed safety staff to more easily patrol different areas, according to Vogen. He emphasized that “active spaces are safe spaces,” and that shortened trains eliminate the possibility of “near-empty” train cars.
“To deter crime through their very presence rather than solving actual crime is again a mistake that police departments across this country are making and have made over and over again,” Prichett said. “The perception of safety is as important or more important than the reality of safety.”