BART votes to approve 6-month ambassador pilot program

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. (KGO) -- BART's board of directors has voted to launch an ambassador program next month to increase the presence of uniformed personnel on trains to increase safety and address concerns about security.

The six-month program will begin February 10.

RELATED: What do increased police patrols actually look like? ABC7 rides BART all day to find out

The ambassadors will be recruited from the ranks of BART Police Department's community service officers, non-sworn personnel who perform police services. The ambassadors will receive de-escalation and anti-bias training.

"So the role is going to be visible to the public," explained BART Police Chief Ed Alvarez. "That would be inappropriate behavior, safety and security on and in the system and bio-hazards."

The ambassadors will walk trains in teams of two, seven days a week from 2 p.m. until midnight, with extra coverage on Saturdays. They will focus their patrols on the most heavily traveled section of the system, the Transbay corridor between 12th St. Oakland and Civic Center stations. During crowded evening commute hours, they will increase their coverage areas to other sections of the system such as Coliseum to Union City and Walnut Creek to Pittsburg/Bay Point.

Unlike BART's sworn officers, who ride trains a half-dozen times per day, the ambassadors will be riding the system full-time.

"This is a first of its kind program for the system," said BART spokesperson Alicia Trost.

People who spoke to ABC7 News like the idea but questioned how they will deal with violent situations-and how much they will get paid.

"This team will be police employees and trained to provide a sense of safety and security for our riders on-board trains and deter crime," said Interim Police Chief Alvarez. "I worked closely with our Board members, the General Manager, and police unions to develop a program that is responsive to our riders and is able to launch seamlessly, safely, and quickly."

The ambassador program had been stalled for the past couple of years, out of concern that the unarmed personnel might create more of a liability than a help. That hurdle was cleared when it was decided to pull the ambassadors from an existing pool of Community Service Officers (CSO), already trained by BART police.

"Hopefully we'll be able to look at this with all the metrics in 3 to 4 months and hopefully expand it," said BART Director Bevan Dufty, "because I think this is something that has the ability to make BART safer."

BART plans to hire ten additional CSO's to make up for those transferred to the ambassador program. If the six-month pilot is successful, BART hopes to make it permanent.

Other safety measures include "hardening" stations, like installing additional fare gates at the Oakland Coliseum station. There are also 40 new sworn officers in the pipeline, 19 currently in various academies, and 21 undergoing field training.

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