More BART cops — whaddaya think?
Photo by Steve Rhodes
I’m anticipating a fair amount of Oscar Grant-related blowback on this (fair enough), but this story in SF Weekly got me wondering — does the crime on BART justify the presence of more BART officers riding BART?
I’m totally in favor of this. Especially if they have a special task force in charge of waking me up so I don’t sleep past my stop.
Up to a point, the level of police presence or the number of cops is orthogonal to their conduct. Once you get too many cops or their agencies/lobbies/etc become too powerful, you get unchecked authority, abuse of power, cronyism, etc. I think there was a line in one of Tom Robbins’ books along those lines — “America had a crime problem, so it hired lots of cops. Now America has a cop problem.”
I don’t have a strong opinion on whether BART needs more police or not. They’re pretty sparse, and it seems like one could get away with an awful lot without getting caught, but then BART’s a pretty low-crime environment, so dense patrolling isn’t as necessary.
If we give the prosecution in the Oscar Grant shooting the benefit of the doubt, it’s hard to say that he was shot because BART has too many police, but it’s much easier to suggest that they don’t have adequately effective training or enough oversight. Police agencies in the US in general are pretty lousy at performance review and management, and tend not to deal with their problematic officers adequately.
I remember a time when I was about 14 years old in 1994 when taking BART was a perfectly safe thing to do so. Fares were about $0.75 from one stop to another in the East Bay, and I would get on at Bay Fair, get off at San Leandro, back on at San Leandro and just ride BART for hours till my ticket would just about expire and get off at Bay Fair again (about 3 hours later – this loophole has been closed since then however).
Never once did I fear my safety, never once did I see any fights, never once did I see any cops either. I was never bothered by anyone, no one ever stole my walkman, and no one ever asked “Hey kid, what are you doing on BART so young and alone?”
Today however, I dont fear the passengers as much as I probably should. Some of them are more violent, and skuzzy looking, but its really the regular “Joes” that I should fear, that and the BART Police themselves. I fear the BART Police will think I have no reason to ride BART and question me. To be honest, sometimes I ride BART because it is such a neat mode of transit, futuristically retro, but mainly, I like the hum of the engines and it keeps my mind off more pressing matters – its a recharge. I dont have any place to go, and I dont need a BART cop questioning me thinking Im crazy or a loon for just wanting to have a mini-relaxation session after I paid $5.00 excursion fares.
The shooting of Oscar Grant had only solidified for me that not only are cops just jerks, but BART cops have a power trip that they arent on a real beat, they are on a quite safe transit system and they are looking and often starting trouble themselves to make it seem like they are keeping the system safe. In all honesty, passengers shouldnt fear one another, but the police should fear us… We are the sane ones.