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Oakland sends BART board back to the drawing board

on August 9, 2009

The BART board listened last Thursday as Oakland residents made some corrections and additions to the draft model for a Citizen Oversight Committee presented by BART.

The draft the board presented on Monday called for a Citizen Oversight Committee and an independent auditor.

The committee would be made up of 11 members.and  an independent auditor who would have subpoena power to talk to any BART police officer and “unfettered” access to police personnel records and police reports once a complaint has been filed.

This is not the case for other civilian reviewed committees including San Jose and Sacramento- both of which have an appointed ombudsperson that is supervised by a city manager.

Still, Oakland residents found the model fell short and also wanted sensitivity training and more interaction between BART police officers and the public.

“They need more multiracial interaction, said Christine Smith, an 18-year old who was one of how many who attended the meeting.

“Have BART police go into the communities, not where they live but where they serve. That way they can serve the people better.”

BART has never had oversight by citizens, but after a BART policeman on duty January 1 shot and killed Oscar Grant everything has changed said, Reverend Daniel Buford. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” he said. “This is not a process that was developed in a vacuum. It was a process resulting from a tragedy.”

BART consulted with nearby cities that have some model of civilian oversight over their police department, including San Jose, Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond, and Sacramento.

The directors declined to state how the city would find more funding to support citizen oversight or what the estimates would be. Berkeley Police Review Commission, by comparison, spent $595 thousand last year. Berkeley employs 186 police officers compared to BART’s 206 police officers.

On Thursday, however, residents focused on the shape of the model.

“Some words are missing from this document,” said Sasha Rabkin, youth and family coordinator with Martin Luther King Junior Freedom Center about the 13-page document.

“Community and democracy seem absent. If 10 or 15 years from now, in order for this document to live, we need to better instruct those after us. It can use more instruction for those who weren’t touched by the events of January 1.”

Francois Hughes, Oakland resident, seemed to encapsulate the emotions of those listening to the model succinctly. “We just have no faith in you people. It’s been months,” said Hughes.

At present, the board is expected to vote on the model at its August 13 meeting.


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