BART police review calls for improvements

September 29, 2009 7:03:19 PM PDT
The BART Police Department is facing scathing criticism. A report by a national organization blasts BART's force and is calling for major reforms. This review comes as a result of that fatal New Year's Day shooting by a BART officer.

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It is a lengthy and fairly comprehensive report that is 300 pages. It was authored by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, also known as NOBLE. This does not address the New Year's shooting. A prior report by a law firm also commissioned by BART did just that. This one takes a look at the entire department and its conclusions are not flattering.

"Sometimes when you look in the mirror, the flaws don't look good," says Chief BART spokesman Linton Johnson.

The report's authors say those flaws range from outdated police policies to the lack of discipline and accountability to an ineffective command structure. The report recommends changes from the top to the bottom of the department.

BART commissioned the review after Officer Johannes Mehserle shot and killed Oscar Grant, a passenger on BART, early New Year's Day.

Mehserle later resigned and is now charged with murder. His lawyer says he mistakenly fired his gun instead of his Taser.

The report says BART lacks a comprehensive policy on the use of force and procedures for accountability.

Johnson says that's one of the many changes BART has already made on its own.

"We're requiring that all uses of force now have to be reported. Before it was just significant events," says Johnson.

The report also recommends improving the way BART hires, trains and disciplines its officers. BART Director Lynette Sweet agrees.

"We have to make sure our officers are properly trained. That's tantamount to making sure January first doesn't happen all over again," says Sweet.

The review also found officers do not routinely ride BART, preferring instead to ride in patrol cars. It recommends more police presence on trains, stations and in parking lots where most of the crimes occur.

"I think that the command staff should all be fired at BART," says Jim Chanin, a civil rights lawyer.

Chanin has an excessive force case against BART. While Chanin applauds the report's findings, he believes BART should simply disband its police department and let other agencies patrol the train line.

"To have a police department that has all these problems just shows that BART should be in the public transit business and not in the police business," says Chanin.

BART Police union president Jesse Sekhon told ABC7 that officers have asked for more training, but he says the BART board has, in his words "Repeatedly ignored their requests." BART directors will host a special meeting Thursday to discuss the report's recommendations.

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