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Auditor: BART police make progress on reforms

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POSTED December 5, 2013 9:43 p.m.

OAKLAND (AP) — Police officers with the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit agency have made significant progress in meeting reforms instituted after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man by a white transit officer, an independent auditor said Thursday.

The reforms adopted three years ago included increased officer training regarding bias and other issues along with better reporting about incidents involving use of force, Patrick Oliver of the Ohio-based National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives told the BART board.

"This is a good agency that can become a great agency," Oliver said during a special board meeting. "They've exceeded expectations of what it takes to conduct major reforms of a police agency, so there's a lot for BART to feel good about, but obviously there's more progress to be made."

The report came during a turbulent time for the nation's fifth-largest commuter-rail system that has already experienced two agonizing labor strikes this year over a contract dispute.

Oliver oversaw an audit of BART police and made recommendations after a scathing report criticized the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant by former officer Johannes Mehserle on an Oakland station platform on New Year's Day 2009.

The shooting was recorded on video by several bystanders, sparking numerous violent protests in the city over what many claimed was police brutality. Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Oliver, a former Cleveland police chief, told the transit board that he thought BART police had a dysfunctional culture nearly five years ago from outdated policies and inadequate training, supervision and accountability.

"One of axioms to live by is that you can expect what you inspect, if you're not inspecting things then it probably won't go as well," Oliver said.

Oliver wants BART police to make even more changes, including the implementation of a computerized tracking system that provides early warnings if officers are having problems.

BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey said the department has adopted a majority of the reforms and officers now receive 40 hours of training every year — compared to the state standard of 24 hours every two years. The training involves use of force, he said.

"The officers like the training because it gives them more confidence when handling volatile incidents, it also keeps them updated and abreast on changes with the law," Rainey said. "The support we have received has made it easier for me to accept the recommendations and use it as a blueprint to move this organization forward."

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