Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) recently announced the appointment of a new Chief of Police, Ed Alvarez. As crime in and around BART stations has surged, this move reflects their ambition to improve safety for it’s hundreds of thousands of daily passengers. BART has stations in many major Bay Area cities, including Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco.
While BART is widely used by students and community members, violence at BART stations and on-board remains an issue that plagues the transit system. In summer 2018, Nia Wilson, an 18 year-old girl, was stabbed at MacArthur station in Oakland. While improving safety is a key focus, BART has implemented a variety of other improvement efforts. These include new trains with clearer signage, and expanded stations and routes to more locations in the South Bay.
With it’s ridership in constant decline in recent years, BART and Alvarez will implement various strategies such as staff alterations in an attempt to counter BART’s hostile environment. “My vision is to continue to work towards making BART the safest transit system in the country by increasing our presence on the train, getting the department fully staffed, and looking at creating fixed post positions at stations where there are a high amount of calls for service,” said Alvarez.
Kieran Sullivan, an Academic Choice (AC) junior and a frequent BART user, spoke about a recent incident he witnessed at the 12th Street Oakland station. “I saw a man throw a woman into a wall, then he threw her onto the ground and started punching her … the BART police showed up after about a minute,” said Sullivan.
“This experience changed my outlook on safety on BART,” he added. Violent crime is not uncommon on BART, particularly recently. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, since 2014, aggravated assaults have increased by 83 percent, and violent crime in general has increased by 115 percent over the past five years.
The increase in crime has severely affected BART’s business, and its approval ratings have fallen by 10 percent to just 59 percent in the past four years. Ridership has declined by 8 percent since 2016. “I always knew crime happened on BART, but seeing something like that is really scary,” said Sullivan, regarding the incident he witnessed.
Part of the reason Alvarez was appointed is to help transform BART’s dangerous reputation. “Unfortunately, we are not immune to crime as we are a microcosm of the communities that we traverse. We too deal with property crimes, crimes against people and quality of life issues,” said Alvarez.
The appointment of Alvarez came into effect immediately, as the 22 year BART police veteran has already begun to implement his new tactics, such as the 12 sworn officers who will both watch over designated stations, and patrol on the trains to ensure safety throughout the system.
Alvarez believes “[They] will make a huge impact. This is only the beginning, my vision is to grow this team and increase our presence on the BART trains and stations.” These officers have been operating since January 13th, and along with roughly 200 existing BART officers will have to ensure the safety of more than 400,000 daily riders on the transit system. Although the hiring of just 12 officers may seem minimal, Alvarez believes, “It’s a start. As we continue to hire more police officers, it will allow me to put more officers on the trains.”
Additionally, Alvarez has added 22 unarmed officers, who are not sworn into service as officers that carry guns would be. They were appointed with the intention to de-escalate altercations on BART, as well as to assert an authoritative presence in dangerous circumstances. “They will add to our overall presence in the system … they give us more sets of eyes and ears that will be in the BART system riding trains and reporting any issues to the BART Police,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez has also implemented tactics regarding the positioning of officers, by appointing fixed officers to specific, high-crime stations, rather than having officers travel from station to station. Alavarez hopes this step will help to improve response times, and create a sense of security for passengers at dangerous stations.
Alvarez will continue to implement new officers and strategies on BART, and the results will be reflected by the crime rates in the near future. His attempts to both secure stations that have proved to be the most problematic, and to increase the presence on the system are the first steps he has taken in his effort to improve the safety for thousands of future BART riders.