Column by BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey
The following is an op-ed column by BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey that was published July 3 in the Contra Costa Times.
By Kenton Rainey
BART Chief of Police
Today marks the end of my second full week as the new BART Chief of Police. I wish I could report that it was pretty uneventful, but I cannot.
The majority of my time has been occupied with coordinating with my law enforcement peers in preparation for possible civil unrest in connection with the Mehserle trial. A large percentage of the remainder of my time has been spent addressing questions about why one of our police officers used his Taser against a suspect who was resisting arrest after being contacted for fare evasion.
The obvious answer for anyone interested in why the officer felt compelled that he had to arrest this suspect is that the aforementioned behavior is against the law, and we are paid to enforce the law no matter how minor. More importantly, however, it's not normal for a 35-year-old man to engage in fare evasion or for him to aggressively and physically resist a uniformed officer who is engaged in the lawful performance of his duty. Bottom line, it's because of this suspect's behavior that there's an issue.
Often, we find that individuals who engage in this type of behavior are no strangers to law enforcement. That's why it was no surprise to learn that the suspect's criminal history includes arrests and/or contacts for battery on a police officer, auto theft, domestic violence, reckless driving, giving false identification to an officer, trespassing and fare evasion.
If we are going to maintain a safe, secure and customer-service friendly transit system, it's important for BART police to enforce minor quality of life crimes like fare evasion. We often ask the men and women of our law enforcement agencies to exercise their discretion when performing their public safety duties on our behalf under the most adverse conditions. They regularly go about their daily routines knowing that their split second decisions are subject to being hotly debated for days, weeks, and months.
With that said, this does not excuse officers who behave intentionally or unintentionally in a manner that is not consistent with BART Police Department operating procedures. That's why we have processes and systems in place to review all incidents involving the use of force. Therefore, we should all step back and let that process occur regarding this incident. Once completed, you have my pledge as the BART Chief of Police that if we have done something wrong, we will admit it, take the necessary steps to fix it and move forward together making our transit system and communities safer.
Finally, one of our elected officials who expressed her opposition to Taser usage has been subjected to personal criticism because of her views. This is both unfair and undemocratic. In a free society the police are entrusted with awesome power that must be open to scrutiny, criticism and citizen oversight if we are going to maintain the public trust. Therefore, not only should we expect this debate to occur, we should welcome it.