BART is under growing pressure to beef up security on the heels of a crime surge that includes mob attacks, sex assaults and robberies. To make matters worse, the number of people applying to join the BART police force is near an all-time low.
The agency's board of directors on Tuesday wrestled with safety concerns just hours after yet another violent attack.
A passenger at San Leandro's Bay Fair Station late Monday was assaulted by three or four men who punched and kicked him and also snatched his iPhone and laptop, according to BART. The victim was transported to a hospital for treatment of facial cuts and swelling, and the suspects managed to get away.
New numbers from BART indicate that there has recently been a 41 percent increase in violent crimes this year. The troubling trend was highlighted by an April mob attack during which dozens of youth stormed a train at Oakland's Coliseum Station to rob passengers.
Rusty Stapp and his family were aboard the train during the attack three months ago.
"I think it's sad, it's scary and I think if we don't all stand up and start making a change, it's just going to get worse," he said at the meeting Tuesday.
Stapp urged the agency's Board of Directors to take crime seriously and release surveillance video of attacks to the public.
"You have a disease going on right now and you either get out and start preventing the disease or the disease is going to proliferate," he said.
BART police Chief Carlos Rojas said Tuesday that an increase in rapes and other sexual crimes on the transit system so far this year is troubling but shouldn't be blown out of proportion.
Rojas said FBI statistics show that there were seven rapes reported on BART property from January through the end of June, compared to four in 2016, three in 2015 and two in 2014.
He said there has also been an increase in the number of reported sexual assaults, with 28 in the first six months of the year, which is the same number of sexual assaults reported during all of 2016, which was already up 75 percent from 2015 when only 16 sexual assault cases were reported.
Rojas said that although all of the reported rapes involved sexual violence, not all involved forced sexual intercourse, which is the traditional definition of rape.
Under federal crime reporting standards, sexual assaults with the intent to commit rape are reported as rapes, he said.
"One rape or sexual assault is too many," Rojas said.
He noted there's no indication that the crimes, most of which occurred at East Bay stations, are connected and said arrests have been made in some but not all of the rape cases.
A report that Rojas presented to BART's Operations, Safety and Workforce Committee today indicates that at a time when concerns are growing about crime at the transit system, BART is having a hard time recruiting and retaining enough police officers.
That said, the chief said he is working on recruitment and other strategies to make BART safer.
"We do cover four counties so it's an expansive system, but nevertheless crime is up and (we're) looking at ways to mitigate that and hopefully eliminate it," Rojas said.
Director Debora Allen, who represents Walnut Creek and surrounding cities in Contra Costa County, said after the meeting that 40 of the police officer positions that BART has budgeted for are unfilled.
"We should have more officers" because the transit system opened the new Warm Springs station in Fremont earlier this year and plans to open other new stations in the near future, Allen said.
"Not only do we have 40 vacant positions that are already budgeted for," she continued, but BART "should have a lot more police officers than we have budgeted for."
Speaking about a related topic, Allen said she's glad that BART will resume sending out daily reports for felony crimes and will issue monthly crime reports to BART directors.
Rojas, who became chief on May 25, discontinued the daily logs in early June, opting instead to send crime data to the free online tool CrimeMapping.com to inform riders about safety threats at or near BART stations.
"We have to have facts in order to identify the (crime) problem and to identify solutions," Allen said.