New law aims to make BART safer, cleaner for riders, employees


New law aims to make BART safer, cleaner for riders, employees

By Melissa Jordan
BART Senior Web Producer

A new law aiming to create a safer, cleaner environment for BART riders and employees is being implemented, and BART will hold a series of community meetings in February to inform the public about the law and seek feedback on its implementation.

Assembly Bill 716 allows BART to issue a “prohibition order” against anyone who commits certain offenses on BART property, banning them for 30 days to a year, depending on the offense. For infractions such as defacing property or urinating in public, a person must be cited on at least three separate occasions within a period of 90 days to receive a prohibition order.  For more serious crimes such as violence against passengers or employees, the ban can take effect after the first instance.

BART joins two other transit districts, Sacramento Regional Transit District and Fresno Area Express, that already have implemented these provisions.

informational poster used by SRTD

   An example of a public information poster used by the Sacramento
   Regional Transit District to explain the law's provisions. BART will
   have its own public information outreach.

“This program has been successful for the Sacramento and Fresno transit systems,” said Assemblymember Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, the author of AB716. “With this new authority to keep serious and repeat offenders out of the BART system, now the riders and employees of BART will have the same opportunity for safer public transportation.”

The new law has numerous safeguards to make sure it is set up carefully, thoughtfully and in compliance with anti-discrimination laws.

THE IMPETUS

One of the factors behind the law’s passage was concern over an increasing number of violent attacks on BART frontline workers who help the public day in and day out. In one case, a man pushed his way into the booth with a station agent and beat her severely.
“I was a station agent for almost 22 years, and I saw my share of repeat offenders,” said Antonette Bryant, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents agents, and a member of the new advisory committee overseeing BART’s implementation of AB716.  “This law is important to protect employees and riders. It creates a mechanism to deal with repeat offenders.”

A different legal tool existed previously, in which BART could go to the District Attorney’s office of a particular county where an offense occurred and seek what is known as a “stay-away order,” and that will still be an option. However, with the multicounty nature of the BART system and the many other priorities of any DA’s office, the new law is expected to be a quicker and more efficient way to deal with the problem.

“This will be more streamlined,” Bryant said.

THE IMPLEMENTATION

A four-phase implementation plan was set up shortly after the law took effect in January 2012, beginning with creating a comprehensive work schedule to develop the program, including establishing an appeals process.  The second phase was forming the Transit Security Advisory Committee to, among other tasks, monitor the issuance of prohibition orders and ensure compliance with anti-discrimination laws. Information on the committee can be found here: http://www.bart.gov/about/bod/advisory/tsac/index.aspx

Committee Chairwoman Janet Abelson, who also serves on BART’s Accessibility Task Force and is a member of the El Cerrito City Council, said she believes the new law can have a big impact.  “This is important to increase the level of safety on BART so riders feel like they can use the system safely,” she said.

The third phase is outreach, which includes holding community meetings to gather feedback on the program and communicating details of the program to the public, through posted materials in stations and on trains, among other methods.

The fourth phase is training, which began in 2012 with development of a course curriculum, and will continue in 2013 with training of all sworn police officers and other selected BART personnel.  Full implementation is expected by May of 2013.

At a Jan. 15 meeting, the advisory committee reviewed some training materials that will be used, including videos from the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) commission. Dealing with special-needs populations such as individuals with mental illness or homeless persons, for example, is covered in case studies and role-play scenarios. The idea is that in some situations, a more successful outcome for all may come from linking a person to services, rather than routing them into the criminal system, so they can get the help they need to change patterns causing the problem. Officers will get specialized training to assess each case.

SAFEGUARDS AGAINST MISUSE

The new law also contains extensive safeguards to address concerns that the authority it grants could be misused. Anyone receiving a prohibition order can request an administrative hearing, the law states. The hearing officer can overturn the order if he or she determines the person “did not understand the nature and extent of his or her actions or did not have the ability to control his or her actions.”

If the cited person is dependent upon transit for “trips of necessity,” including travel to or from medical or legal appointments, school, work, or to obtain food and clothing, the order must be modified to allow for those trips. If the person is not satisfied with the hearing officer’s decision he or she may seek judicial review. 

HOW YOU CAN HELP

The public’s awareness and assistance with the new program will be an important factor in its success. The often-repeated public safety advice, “If you see something, say something,” becomes even more crucial when documenting repeat offenders. For citations to be issued in some cases, a witness willing to file a complaint is needed if an officer does not personally witness the action.

This could mean staying behind a few minutes on your commute so you can assist an officer who may need to ask you to describe what you saw or point out where something happened. While this takes more time, you will be helping create a safer environment for yourself and other passengers by documenting offenses on the BART system.

“The public really can make a difference, to help make BART safer for everyone,” said BART Police Lt. Tyrone Forte, a member of the advisory committee who will also lead training for officers.

OTHER TRANSIT SYSTEMS’ EXPERIENCES

BART is the latest transit system in California to be covered by the prohibition order law. Previously, the Sacramento Regional Transit District (SRTD) and the Fresno Area Express were covered. BART was added to the program through the AB716 legislation in January 2012.

Sacramento has about four years under its belt. Connie Garcia-Weinhardt, senior community and government affairs officer for SRTD, said the program has been very well received and is seen as a deterrent to crime, so that very few prohibition orders have had to be issued there. “We’re glad that at least we have the tool in the tool box,” she said.

Fresno Area Express began implementation of its program on Feb. 1, 2010. In the first year 26 prohibition orders were issued, with over half relating to battery of public transit employees or passengers. “It is very apparent to us that this law has helped reduce some of the behavioral issues” aboard public transit, a bill analysis by the state Senate Committee on Public Safety cited the agency as saying.

In a larger urban area, BART carries far more riders than either of those systems combined. In some ways, the full implementation of AB716 can be seen as a test for whether this method of keeping violent and repeat offenders out of the system is a success that could be emulated in other areas.

“Hopefully, this law will serve as a deterrent here as well to make people aware that if they do these crimes, there will be consequences,” Lt. Forte said. “It can be another important way that we help to keep the BART system safe.”

COMMUNITY MEETINGS:

The community meetings to be held in February are:

Alameda County
Monday, February 11th • 6:00 pm
BART Citizen Review Board
BART Board Room – Kaiser Center
344 – 20th Street, 3rd Floor, Oakland, CA
(2 blocks from the 19th Street /Oakland BART Station)

San Francisco County
Wednesday, February 13th • 6:30 pm
San Francisco Mental Health Board
Department of Public Health
101 Grove Street, Room 300, San Francisco, CA
(2 blocks from the Civic Center/UN Plaza BART Station)

Contra Costa County
Thursday, February 28th • 6:30 pm
Contra Costa County Mental Health Commission
El Cerrito City Hall – Council Chambers
10890 San Pablo Avenue, El Cerrito, CA
(5 blocks from the El Cerrito del Norte BART Station)

Another community meeting was held January 23 in San Mateo County, where outreach is continuing.

MORE RESOURCES:

To view the legislation in its entirety, go to:
http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/11-12/bill/asm/ab_0701-0750/ab_716_bill_20110908_enrolled.pdf

To view the Public Safety Committee’s analysis of the legislation go to:
http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/11-12/bill/asm/ab_0701-0750/ab_716_cfa_20110701_115626_sen_comm.html

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

Q. What is AB716?
A.  Assembly Bill 716, authored by Assemblymember Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, gives BART new authority to ban serious and repeat offenders from the BART system.

Q. When did it take effect?
A.  AB716 took effect Jan. 1, 2012. Subsequently, BART has worked to set the foundation for implementation, putting into place all of the infrastructure and safeguards, such as the advisory committee and appeals process, to implement it successfully.

Q. When will it be fully implemented?
A.  BART estimates it will be fully implemented by May 2013.

Q. What is the goal of this law?
A. To create a safer and cleaner environment for BART riders and employees.

Q. How will the public find out more about what is covered under this law?
A.  There will be a series of community outreach meetings on AB716, as well as educational and informational materials such as posters in trains and/or stations.

Q. What are you doing to make sure everyone’s rights are protected?
A. The new law has numerous safeguards to make sure it is set up in compliance with anti-discrimination laws. There is an advisory committee overseeing the law’s implementation as well as an appeals process for those who feel they were treated unfairly.

Q. How can the public review statistics of what happens once these prohibition orders start being given?
A. The advisory committee will make annual reports to the California Legislature on the progress of implementing AB716. This will include how many prohibition orders are issued to citizens and the outcomes of those orders.

Q. How can I find out more about the advisory committee?
A. Information about the advisory committee is on the BART website at http://www.bart.gov/about/bod/advisory/tsac/index.aspx