BART shooting report blames communication

August 18, 2009 11:54:50 PM PDT
No one appeared to be in charge and "communication failures were prominent" when BART police responded to a disturbance at the Fruitvale station on New Year's Day that ended in the fatal shooting of an unarmed man by a BART police officer, according to a report released today by a law firm hired to investigate the BART response.

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The law firm, Meyers Nave, was hired to review BART policies, practices and procedures as they relate to the New Year's Day incident, in which BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle shot and killed Oscar Grant III on the station's platform. Mehserle later resigned from the force and now faces trial for murder.

"The report clearly says we could have done a better job," BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger told reporters during a media availability tonight in which she discussed changes already implemented by BART in response to the shooting.

Officers were called to the Fruitvale station in Oakland shortly after 2 a.m. New Year's Day in response to reports of a fight on a train.

The report states that the first officer to arrive should have acted as the incident commander. "The incident commander could then have calmed things by asserting command and control," the report reads.

Additionally, BART police officers failed to work as a team and did not follow an operational directive that outlines tactics that should be used when dealing with a hazardous situation on a train, according to the report.

"For example, officers separated from each other and multiple officers attempted to search or control suspects," the report states. "The more chaotic the situation, the more finely controlled police tactics have to be practiced."

The report also examines BART's Taser policy and protocols.

Mehserle's attorney has claimed that his client meant to use his Taser gun when he fatally shot Grant.

The report points out that BART policy allows officers to carry the Taser on the "strong" side of the belt so long as the Taser is positioned so that it can be drawn with the officer's "weak" hand. Guns are typically carried on the officer's "strong" side.

The report notes that the practice is approved by the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.

"However, having two similar feeling weapons, the Taser and the firearm, in close proximity is the less favored method in nationwide best practices," the report reads. It recommends that BART should consider altering that practice.

The report also recommends that BART update its policy manual, parts of which have not been updated since the 1970s, and that police officers receive regular training on the agency's policies.

It also found that BART's reporting of "use-of-force" incidents is substandard, and recommends more thorough investigations into cases in which officers use force, regardless of how significant the force is.

The report also calls for BART to increase its transparency and accountability by retaining a reputable firm to perform auditing or oversight.

BART officials said today that the transit agency has already implemented some changes, including investigating all use-of-force incidents. A review panel has been established to examine those incidents and make recommendations to the chief of police, according to BART.

Dugger said tonight the key now is to carefully review the report and take the necessary steps as quickly as possible, which include coming up with an "action plan" within the next 30 days.

The BART Police Department training plan and budget will provide 40 hours of training per year for officers, according to the transit agency, which says Police Officers Standards and Training requires a minimum of 24 hours every two years.

BART also says it's in the process of updating its policy manual. "(The report) will help the BART board and BART in general move forward and open a new chapter in our continuing effort to improve police practices at BART," BART board member Carole Ward Allen said tonight.

Last week, BART Police Chief Gary Gee announced that he will resign at the end of the year.

LINKS: Key Findings
BART receives final reports on New Years Day shooting

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