An NBC Bay Area investigative series is leading to changes inside the BART Police Department.
During a BART board meeting on Thursday, Director Bevan Dufty credited the newly released season of DERAILED — an ongoing NBC Bay Area digital series — for his decision to formally request certain BART policies and procedures be changed relating to the agency’s police department.
"I binge-watched DERAILED,” Dufty said while addressing the public and BART staff during the virtual board meeting. “I want to say that I think it fairly represented our strengths and challenges and raised some issues.”
Dufty’s comments stem from a yearlong BART police operation in San Francisco that involves officers routinely removing passengers from trains who are unable to show proof of payment.
Past Promises From BART's Police Chief
In the past, BART’s police force has faced criticism for issuing about 50% of its criminal citations to Black riders, even though those passengers have historically only made up about 10% of BART’s ridership.
In an effort to track and, ultimately, determine the cause of the disparity, BART Police Chief Ed Alvarez has repeatedly assured the public and the BART board that his team of 178 sworn officers collect demographic data from each person they arrest or detain.
“The BART Police Department collects comprehensive demographic data on all stops,” Alvarez said during a BART board meeting on June 25.
Newly released episodes of the NBC Bay Area digital series DERAILED, however, reveal that kind of comprehensive data collection has not been the practice during certain police operations at the Embarcadero Station in San Francisco.
The Yearlong Police Operation
The police operation in question – which dates back to Sept. 30, 2019 and often stretches a few hours after beginning at roughly 5 a.m. each weekday – regularly involves police officers physically removing passengers from trains who refuse to leave on their own after failing to show proof they paid the required fare.
In Chapter 4 of DERAILED: Season 2, which was just released on Wednesday, NBC Bay Area revealed BART has repeatedly failed to collect such demographic data throughout the duration of the nearly yearlong police operation.
BART Director Credits 'DERAILED' in Pushing for Police Reforms
On Thursday, Dufty contacted Alvarez, BART General Manager Bob Powers, and BART Independent Police Auditor Russell Bloom to formally request the transit agency make good on its previous promises and begin collecting demographic data from every passenger forced off a train by law enforcement.
“They are going to come together and figure out how we can go about doing this,” Dufty said. “This is an important opportunity.”
Dufty hopes the reforms will help determine whether the ongoing police operation is disproportionately impacting riders based on their race. NBC Bay Area has learned the yearlong police operation at Embarcadero Station only requires BART fare inspectors and police officers to inspect trains heading to the East Bay, toward Oakland. Trains traveling in the opposite direction, toward the South Bay, are not regularly checked as part of the police operation.
In the Bay Area, some of the largest concentrations of Black people live in the East Bay, which includes Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
“It is very important if we are going to approach policing in an equitable way, that we examine all of the decision-making around every aspect of policing, including deployment decisions," said Bloom, who serves as an independent watchdog over BART's police force and is responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct and questionable police practices.
“The collection of data is an important step of understanding any policing activity," Bloom added.
The mere possibility that BART police is somehow targeting Black riders is "ridiculous" and "makes no sense," according to Keith Garcia, president of the BART police union and a BART police officer of nearly three decades.
"Just like if you go fishing, you're not going to go where there's no fish," Garcia said. "You're going to go where there's fish. The reason why we are checking those trains at Embarcadero in the morning is because the highest concentration of homeless people who get on our trains without tickets and take up seats and don't wear masks are on those trains. And if they if they're allowed to continue through the Transbay Tube, they'll go all over the system."
If the yearlong police operation is disproportionately impacting certain groups of passengers, Bloom argues that presents a serious problem for BART, even if the disparate impact wasn't intentional.
"If we don’t even consider the outcomes … we are less able to respond when we have negative outcomes," Bloom said. "We want to understand if we are causing harm. Even if it's not our fault, we want to know that, and if there's something we can do to minimize or lessen harm, we are required to do that. We have an obligation."
Bloom tells the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit he expects to have initial conversations with BART's general manager and police chief by next week in an effort to craft new policies and procedures for BART’s police force.
“I can’t begin to understand whether there are negative outcomes or racial disparate enforcement … unless I understand and know who is being contacted and how often,” Bloom said.
NBC Bay Area first questioned BART on the lack of data collection in July. Protocols to collect demographic data during those specific police operations were never put into place for fear noting such information would slowdown trains and cause “a significant service delay,” according to BART spokesperson James Allison.
Independent Police Auditor Expects BART to take Swift Action
Since such data would only be collected once the person is off the train, Bloom doesn’t believe the process would impact train schedules at all. In addition, trains are already traveling less frequently during the pandemic since BART has largely been without 90% of its ridership for five months and counting.
Even if the data collection would somehow negatively impact the morning train schedules at the Embarcadero Station, Bloom argues that is not enough of a reason to completely avoid the responsibility of tracking the data.
“It has always been important for us to understand the impact of policing across race,” Bloom said. “This moment is no exception.”