Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, announced it is “more than doubling” its police presence on trains in order to address rider safety concerns beginning March 20, according to a press release from BART on Friday.
BART police will be shifting officers inside of passenger trains instead of patrol cars, with an extra eight to 18 officers patrolling trains per shift, the press release noted. Ten officers already patrol San Francisco and the core service area of BART.
“This is the biggest train deployment we’ve had in the 25 years I’ve been here, if not the history of the BART Police Department,” said BART Police Chief Ed Alvarez in the statement. “We’re going to be doubling down on our presence in the system.”
Madeline Albert, who has lived in the East Bay and taken BART to school and work her entire life, says she’s seen BART become “more dangerous” in real time.
She noted that police presence on BART trains makes her feel safer when she knows that someone is watching in case of an incident.
Leyla Wahedi, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, noted that she also felt safer, but still “tense” around police on BART because she feels uncertain about how they’ll react to a situation. She noted that American policing’s roots in white supremacy and disparities in how different communities of color are policed makes her question if police presence is the answer to improving safety on BART.
However, Albert still feels it’s a “short term” solution, as BART has hired more officers in the past to little effect. According to a BART news article, BART Police Department hired 40 officers in 2019, 24 in 2018, and 16 in 2017.
BART Police reports show a 17.6% increase in crime from 2014 to 2019. When the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020, ridership plummeted, and so did crime: from 2019 to 2020, crime decreased by 61.8%. Crime was higher in 2022 than in 2021 — 1,732 incidents, up from 1,254 — but remains lower than pre-pandemic numbers.
“I was thinking about that when choosing another job — would I be able to drive?” Albert said. “Berkeley made me rely on public transit and I knew I needed to find something where I can drive, a more permanent job. How dangerous it was was influencing how I picked job positions.”
Wahedi noted that, when there are fewer people, “you’re inevitably going to feel unsafe.” For her, more frequent service and increased ridership would make BART feel safer.
BART has also announced it will cease Embarcadero station fare enforcement, and instead shift inspectors and officers to walk trains elsewhere, something Wahedi welcomes as fare checks tend to make her commutes longer. In addition, cleaning for both stations and trains will increase, noted a BART news article.
“I understand the argument about bringing more police activity is not necessarily a good idea because people can feel uncomfortable with having the presence,” Albert said. “But from someone who’s grown up here and taking BART every day in high school and when I was working, having my parents taking BART as a reliable way to commute, seeing the change has impacted my view on security.”