BART announces creation of Oversight Commission

BART
July 16, 2010 6:41:13 PM PDT
BART Board President James Fang called it an "historic day," as Fang and other BART Board members announced the creation of a Citizen Oversight Commission to oversee the transit system's embattled police force. The press conference followed last night's signing of AB 1586 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"We are pleased that we are trying to do the important job of restoring public confidence," he said.

The bill was sponsored by Oakland Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, after the January 1, 2009 shooting death of unarmed passenger Oscar Grant by a BART police officer at the Fruitvale station. "This is a new page in BART's history," said Swanson. It's about restoring confidence in the BART police force."

The 11-member commission will be mostly selected by BART's Board of Directors. The commission will include one representative of the BART police force.

"Law enforcement organizations are paramilitary organizations. And as you're probably aware, our military organizations have civilian oversight," BART's new police chief Kenton Rainey said.

Besides responding to citizen complaints and doling out punishment to BART officers who violate agency policies, the new commission will also be involved in setting policy and training practices for the BART police department.

Oakland attorney John Burris, who represents Grant's family in a $25 million civil suit against BART suggested the commission would be a positive step toward better relations between the community and BART police.

"If there's accountability for the officers' actions, you're more likely to make sure they don't engage in inappropriate behavior," he said.

Burris did not think however that such citizen oversight would have necessarily prevented Grant's death. Johannes Mehserle, the officer who shot Grant, was convicted by a Los Angeles jury of involuntary manslaughter. Mehserle will be sentenced November 5.

"The adjudication of any disciplinary actions now can come to this body. They can review almost anything. And what that brings to the table is the transparency that was so lacking back in January of 2009," BART board member Lynette Sweet said.

The Citizen's Oversight Commission will begin working January 1, 2011, exactly two years to the day after Grant's death.


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