BART claims that March and April of this year saw “two of its highest monthly arrest totals since the arrival of the pandemic,” and is engaging in a PR campaign that hopes more people getting arrested on BART will make riders more comfortable coming back on BART.
It’s not a particularly shocking correlation that doubling the number of BART police officers would result in more people getting arrested by BART police. But on the heels of BART announcing they were doubling the size of the BART Police force back in February, BART has still had some headache headlines of crime on the system, including a bizarre meat cleaver attack and cars being torched in Antioch station parking lot just this month alone.
Polls have indicated that a lack of safety and cleanliness may still be keeping BART from getting back to full ridership, and BART seems keenly aware of the perception issue. So a new report on KRON4 today trumpets that BART Police are making significantly more arrests in the couple months since doubling the size of their police staff.
The BART system iterates this in their own press release. “The BART Police Department in March and April saw two of its highest monthly arrest totals since the arrival of the pandemic,” BART says in the release. “In March BPD reported 258 arrests systemwide and in April the monthly total increased to 266.”
It’s unclear how much higher these arrest totals are compared to a normal month. And note their careful wording of the phrase “since the arrival of the pandemic.” That indicates these arrest numbers may be lower arrest totals than pre-pandemic numbers. So there is clearly some public relations messaging at work here, but it’s a message that BART is grabbing onto eagerly.
“Our riders have told us loud and clear they want to see more BPD [BART Police Department] presence on trains and in stations,” BART Board President Janice Li said in the press release. “I applaud BPD for being responsive to riders and hope that maximizing the visible safety presence, especially in the core of our system will encourage more people to come back to BART.”
This represents a pendulum swing since the 2009 Oscar Grant shooting and the 2019 detaining of a Black man eating a breakfast sandwich, both of which fostered sentiment that the BART Police Department was too aggressive. And BART’s messaging is more than just “cops and arrests and incarceration,” they're also doing more positive messaging. Just this weekend, they did a BART anime character promotion at FanimeCon in San Jose which appeared to draw huge crowds.
But BART is clearly promoting that they’re arresting people as a means to try to win back ridership. Given their currently precarious finances, they’ll have to hope that this draws enough riders back to pay for a giant police staffing increase, and those $90 million worth of “evasion-proof” gates. Because if not, these splurges might not seem like money well spent if BART is slashing service for budgetary reasons a year or two from now.
Image: @AliciaTrost via Twitter