BART Police are going to be regularly patrolling trains on nights and weekends as part of a new program that launched Monday, and the news has some regular riders going "Really?... Now?"
"I ride BART everyday and probably go three months without seeing policeman on the train," says one rider speaking to KRON4, echoing what many riders have likely experienced. The reason is that BART officers only go on train patrols when they've had a report or threat that they're investigating or on the lookout for. Otherwise, the BART Police Department hasn't had the staffing to cover those shifts because it has been focused on station beats — with officers often assigned to specific groups of stations, traveling by car between them.
As BART Police Deputy Chief Lance Haight tells KPIX, "[Up to now] we just had barely enough officers to cover that beat structure that we have. Now that we’ve hired many more officers, we can finally get to a level to layer on top of that to have a train team to patrol the trains as well."
The train patrols will be done by 12 officers in six partnered pairs, and the patrols will focus on the times when riders have said in surveys that they feel most vulnerable, nights and weekends. This has been made possible following the recent hire of 19 new officers in the department, which was approved last year.
These patrols will be in addition to those that will be done during weekdays and other hours by 10 new BART Ambassadors — who are all non-sworn staffers from the BART Police Department. BART's board just approved the Ambassador Program at their meeting last week, and it is set to launch on February 10. Unarmed ambassadors will conduct their own patrols and respond to complaints of aggressive panhandling, "biohazards," and other quality-of-life issues, both on trains and in stations.
KRON4 did a ride-along with a pair of BART Police officer on Monday and observed them checking on tickets and on the welfare of sleeping passengers. As one officer tells the station, "We’re here to be a presence, we’re here to make the BART patrons feel comfortable." He adds, "A lot of people when they see us they’re like 'I haven’t seen a BART officer here ever.'"
So, expect to see more officers wandering trains, especially at night. The hope is that these measures — with both police and ambassador presence on trains and in stations — will boost BART's flagging ridership numbers. BART's ridership peaked about five years ago and has been steadily declining in recent years due to a variety of factors that include — ironically — overcrowded trains, presence of the homeless, and safety concerns. Ridership on nights and weekends, in particular, is down. BART ridership on Saturdays, for instance, was between 192,000 and 219,000 per month in 2015, and in 2019 it averaged between 150,000 and 160,000.