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BART offers free app so riders can report disturbances and crime

on September 8, 2014

The motto for the Department of Homeland Security’s campaign urging people to report suspicious activity is: “If you see something, say something.” This motto is at the very top of the new BART Watch app that BART’s police department is asking the public use to report disturbances, crimes in progress, vandalism or panhandling.

The app was made available for public download on August 28 and is free on the Apple app store and on Google Play for Android users. BART spokesman Jim Allison said that work on the app began in March after the BART Board of Directors approved contracting its development to ELERTS, a company that has created similar apps for cities. Allison said that the app is meant to encourage people to report “things they might not necessarily feel comfortable saying on the phone in the presence of others.”

To set up an account, the BART Watch app asks for your first and last name, your email address, a photo and a contact phone number—but providing these details is optional. Then the main menu presents you with an option to either call BART Police by phone, or to submit a report online through the app. Users are asked to provide a summary of the problem and details like the number of the train car they are in and the station that it is approaching. There’s also a space for you to upload a photo of the offense you’re reporting. Once you’ve filled out the report, a slider option allows your report to remain anonymous. Allison said that the app functions as if “you’ve called the BART Police dispatch center or 911.”

Allison said that BART Police will respond to some incidents more quickly than others, and the responses are “gauged by urgency and severity of what you’re reporting.” For example, officers will respond more quickly to a crime in progress than to a report of an illegally parked vehicle. “Like everyone else, they have to prioritize,” he said.

The app is so new that many local groups that deal with privacy and surveillance issues, like San Francisco’s Electronic Frontier Foundation and the group Oakland Privacy, said they had either not researched the app yet or not yet taken positions on it.

Wendi O., a longtime BART rider who declined to give her last name, had not heard of the app before, either, but after hearing about how it works, said she was cautious of its “Big Brother-ness.” She said that she hasn’t come across too many situations that she would want to report. “Where would you draw the line?” when it comes to what you could report, she asked. For example, she said, would you report someone for eating on BART or report mothers who are begging for money?

Debbie Durnell, another BART rider, had not previously heard of the app, but she downloaded it as soon as a reporter mentioned it to her, saying she would use it. Durnell mentioned that she’d recently witnessed an event on BART when another rider could have used the app—a man upset by a barking dog on a train tried reporting it at a station kiosk, and was told by the attendant to call BART Police.

Between August 28 and September 3, 51 tips had come in through the BART Watch app. Allison was unsure whether this figure is higher or lower than the average number of reports BART Police receive each week.


  1. Stan on September 8, 2014 at 10:15 am

    “man upset by a barking dog on a train tried reporting it at a station kiosk, and was told by the attendant to call BART Police.”

    Many of these incidents could be handled by the station agents if they would do their jobs instead socializing with each other, reading newspapers, and using their cell phones.
    The station agents at MacArthur Station are the worst offenders. These agents allow people to routinely allow non-paying riders to enter the station, and once past the ticket gates they proceed to the platforms and board the trains. Bart should fire the station agents at MacArthur station.

  2. Olallie on September 8, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    Errr. Can you post links to the Apple & Android versions of the apps?

  3. Bob on September 12, 2014 at 9:17 pm

    Check with the ACLU. They’ve had some thoughts on this issue, including concerns about what and how much information this app collects from users.

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