A BART police oversight bill signed into law on Thursday will take effect on Jan 1, 2011, exactly two years after a BART police officer shot and killed an unarmed passenger on the Fruitvale station platform in Oakland, BART officials announced today.
Former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for shooting and killing 22-year-old Oscar Grant III on Jan. 1, 2009. Mehserle is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 5.
"Today really is a historic day for BART," BART Board President James Fang said at a news conference held in Oakland this morning to discuss the signing of the bill.
Existing law allows the board to contract with outside auditing entities, but the new law enables the board to also establish two BART police oversight entities: an independent police auditor and a citizen review board.
Lynette Sweet, a member of the BART board of directors, explained that these entities will work together to improve transparency following certain incidents, such as the use of force by an officer or a discriminatory charge.
"This is the people's bill," Sweet said, adding that the bill is in part the result of discussions in the 20 community meetings that followed the fatal shooting of Grant.
Assemblyman Sandri Swanson, D-Alameda, who introduced the bill, said that although everyone is pleased about the bill's passage, "this is not a time to celebrate" given the tragic circumstance of Grant's death.
Sweet said that if the auditor and citizen review board had existed on the day Grant was killed, events directly following the shooting would have transpired differently.
The auditor would have been called to the scene right away, and then made recommendations to the citizen review board, who then would have been able to make recommendations to the BART police chief, Sweet said.
The citizen review board will consist of 11 people, nine chosen individually by BART board members, one chosen by the board together, and another chosen by BART police.
Fang said that although the changes may not be able to completely prevent another incident from occurring, it will certainly improve oversight and accountability.
Bay City News