BART plans to shift police away from calls related to homelessness, drug use and mental health crises as the transit agency heeds reform calls from the Black Lives Matter movement.
Over the next three months, the Board of Directors will work with General Manager Bob Powers to change the transit agency’s law enforcement model, emphasizing social services instead of officers with guns. Four progressive directors introduced the plan as an amendment to BART’s 2021 budget, and it passed by a 7-2 vote, with the two most conservative directors dissenting.
Yet even as they supported the amendment, some directors tried to separate it from broader calls to defund the police.
“I don’t support defunding the police,” Director Mark Foley said. “I believe they play a critical role in our ability to keep our riders safe. But we do have to re-examine how we police on BART.”
Though the Bay Area’s rail system once provided respite from social problems, it’s now a place where riders confront them face to face. More people with nowhere else to go are seeking shelter on the trains and in the stations, and mental health crises persist. Last week, a woman allegedly pushed a man in front of a moving train at the Downtown Berkeley Station.
For months, BART’s Board of Directors argued about these issues, with the progressive wing calling for unarmed ambassadors as Powers laid out plans to hire 19 sworn police officers a year for five years — a goal he abandoned when COVID-19 thrust the agency into an economic crisis. It currently has 178 sworn officers and a police budget of $91.4 million for the next fiscal year.
But the recent anti-police-brutality protests led BART to reconsider its spending plan. The budget approved Thursday includes roughly $2 million for ambassadors and anti-racism training in the Police Department. Officials had originally earmarked the money for fare inspectors and police officers, hoping to increase their presence “during a time riders and employees have anxiety about new (COVID-19) protocols,” spokeswoman Alicia Trost said.