BART review committee discusses police practices during meeting

on November 25, 2009

Members of the BART Police Department Review Committee raised questions Wednesday morning about the police practices at the West Oakland BART station on Nov 21 that resulted in the arrest and injury of an intoxicated train passenger.

The four-member Review Committee, which was created in the aftermath of the Oscar Grant shooting death by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle at the Fruitvale BART station January 1, reviews BART police training and identifies civilian concerns about the police force.

At its regularly scheduled meeting in the BART board room in Downtown Oakland this morning, Directors Carol Ward Allen, Tom Radolovich, and Lynette Sweet raised concerns about the efficacy of BPD practices that resulted in the officer pushing the suspect, Michael Joseph Gibson, 37, into the cement and glass wall at the West Oakland BART station while being placed under arrest. Director Sweet sought clarification on proper police protocol, asking Commander Hartwig why the officer brought Michael Gibson toward the platform wall and into the glass window with such force.  The shattering glass during the arrest caused lacerations to the officer and to Gibson.

Jesse Sekhon of the Police Officers Association told the board the officer’s cuts to his face may require limited plastic surgery, but that he was currently at home recovering with his family.  Michael Gibson was arraigned in Alameda County Superior Court Tuesday on three misdemeanor counts, including disturbing the peace, public drunkenness, and indecent exposure.  His bail was set at $5,000.

Commander Hartwig said that the investigation is ongoing, but based on the reports of an intoxicated and aggressive rider from passengers’ 911 calls, released to the public by BART on Tuesday, the officer at the station acted with the information available at that moment. “Those decisions were split-second decisions that are made to protect the safety of everyone at that location, the suspect included.” Hartwig said.

Hartwig said that, considering the particular dangers of arresting suspects at train stations, moving Gibson to the wall may have been appropriate in this situation. “In my personal experience,” he said, “I’d want to be away from the platform edge, away from the train.”

“Why he made that decision I cannot specifically answer. The investigation is ongoing,” Hartwig said.

Director Tom Radulovich asked for a review of the West Oakland incident, similar to the review of the Oscar Grant shooting by the law firm Meyers Nave law and the top-to-bottom agency review conducted by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE).  Radulovich said he hoped the agency’s review would be made available so that BART could improve its handling of such incidents in the future. “After the review we may find,” he said, “well maybe he was following procedure but we need to modify procedure.”

Director Sweet characterized the differences between the BART Police’s response after the Oscar Grant shooting and after the Michael Gibson arrest as “night and day,” but said the agency needed to do more to repair the public perception of the force. “Protecting the public is really important,” Sweet said. “but the perception the public has of who we are and what we’re doing when investigating ourselves, really isn’t going to go over much longer. We’ve got to get civilian oversight in place.”
In other business, the review committee discussed proposed plans to hire a successor to BART Police Chief Gary Gee when he steps down at the end of 2009. The committee reviewed plans put forward by consultant Bob Murray of Bob Murray and Associates to advertise the chief position in December through February and recommend a group of 6-10 applicants to BART’s general manager, Dorothy Dugger, by the beginning of March.

Board members questioned whether they should have a greater role in the interviewing and selection process. The selection process as drafted by Bob Murray and Associates and the BART General Manager holds off input from the public until the list has been narrowed to a group of 2 or 3 candidates.  Dugger did share with the committee a draft survey to be made available to the public after the Thanksgiving holiday, seeking comment from riders and the public as to the experience and qualities they desired in the next chief.

Dugger said the proposed selection process would directly involve the Board at the beginning of the process to identify the standards for hiring the next chief “What are the criteria, what are the qualities and experiences that are most critical to us? What is the job that we are asking the chief of police to do?” asked Dugger, rhetorically. “The focus is on our collaborative efforts on those questions as opposed to involving the Board in a personnel selection process, which historically, we have not done.”

Radulovich said that considering the public’s dissatisfaction with the BART Police, a greater public participation in the hiring process was necessary. ”The assumption is that the system is working,” he said “But its not working. We’re at a juncture. We are a different place right now where the public is calling for more accountability. We can’t just be window dressing.”

Finally, the BART Department Review Board heard plans for accommodating the New Year’s Eve rush as well as promoting a “safe and friendly” revelry during the night’s festivities, which will also mark the one-year anniversary of the Grant shooting.

Paul Oversier, BART Assistant General Manager for Operations, outlined proposed plans to alleviate congestion during the first hour after the New Year’s fireworks. From 12:15 am on New Years Day, BART plans to alter train traffic so that the Embarcadero BART will handle trains running to points along the Dublin and Fremont lines while the Montgomery BART station will service passengers heading to stops along the Pittsburg/Bay Point and Richmond lines.

BART will also employ an expected 20 extra trains starting at approximately 12:15 until approximately 1 a.m  running from Daly City heading across the Bay to dramatically increase the frequency of trains at the busy downtown stations.

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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