New bill creates citizen oversight of BART police

A bill signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger late last night will give citizens a role in directing policy and reviewing practice in the BART police force for the first time.

The BART Accountability Act comes as a direct response to the killing of Oscar Grant by then BART police officer Johannes Mehserle on January 1, 2009 at Fruitvale BART station, and follows public criticism that the BART police force had insufficient oversight procedures other than the transit agency’s own board.

The bill, which goes into effect on January 1, 2011, will see the appointment of a new independent auditor at BART who will report grievances to a newly formed Citizen Oversight body made up of 11 civilian members.

At a press conference Friday morning announcing the development, BART Board of Directors President James Fang said the bill was one of the most significant milestones for BART outside direct transportation issues. He said the killing of Oscar Grant was a sad reminder that BART is about much more than transit, and that this bill will allow great strides to be made in the way police interacts with the community. The hope, he said, is that it will provide better transparency and accountability.


Details about how much authority the new watchdog body will have are not yet clear, although Fang said he expected the body to be “pro-active in setting policy”.

The bill’s author, Oakland Assemblymember Sandré Swanson, said discussions held at least 20 meetings of religious leaders, community and police organizations had helped usher in the bill. “It’s all about restoring public confidence in BART and the BART police,” he said. “To prevent another Oscar Grant tragedy, BART recognizes that systemic changes need to be made with respect to their training of officers and the investigation of complaints against those officers.”

BART recently appointed a new chief of police, Kenton Rainey, who started the job on June 16. Speaking about the news, he said: “This isn’t a time to celebrate. But this bill has the moral high ground.”