BART Police tower in North Berkeley prompts questions

Photo: Heidi Sachs
The slightly askew SkyWatch tower in the parking lot at the North Berkeley BART station. Photo: Heidi Sachs

When a slightly wonky-looking tower with a look-out cab on the top recently appeared in the parking lot of the North Berkeley BART station, local residents started asking questions. What was it for? How did anyone get into that cab anyway? Was it about to fall over?

It all began when Heidi Sachs sent us the above photo which we posted on Berkeleyside’s Facebook page. It prompted some enlightening comments.

We also checked in with BART who gave us the lowdown: the tower is called a SkyWatch trailer.

“It’s purpose is to serve as a mobile observation post in areas where being at higher elevation would allow our personnel to better watch for crimes in progress,” said BART spokesman Steven Coontz.


The SkyWatch is being used at the North Berkeley station to help BART Police with its efforts to reduce auto crimes and bike thefts, Coontz said. He added that the trailer serves as a deterrent to crime even when it is not staffed.

Bike thefts have been on the rise recently in Berkeley, as the 2014 Crime Report released this week by the Berkeley Police Department documented. In a year that otherwise saw a significant decrease in crime across the board, BPD reported that a “marked increase in bike thefts kept theft categories from falling further.” Auto thefts overall dropped 17% in 2014.

Asked why the contraption is currently at the North Berkeley station, Coontz said: “We placed it at North Berkeley to try and address bike thefts and auto crime. Due to the large number of bikes parked at that station, we experience the highest number of thefts on the Richmond line there.”

As to those questions about access to the SkyWatch, Coontz said the box moves up and down so a person can enter the cab, and the height is adjustable.

BART only has one SkyWatch unit which it moves from station to station depending on need. Coontz said this unit will likely be moved to another location this weekend.


Berkeleyside readers had more imaginative ideas for the SkyWatch, without, perhaps knowing exactly its purpose. “They’re ready to ticket the next speeding navy fighter jet over Berkeley,” wrote Chris Rooney on our Facebook post. “Preventing giraffe fare evaders?” asked Robert Prinz. “It’s for Inspector Gadget, clearly” said Steve Gere.

Darnice Linton and Kathy Thonton both said the tower reminded them of the Imperial Stormtroopers from Star Wars. Dr. Seuss was also alluded to. See all comments on the Facebook post.

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside. Email: tracey@citysidejournalism.org.