BART riders are on high alert after a mob of teens robbed passengers two weekends ago. BART Police officials and the agency’s board of directors responded at a board meeting on Thursday with plans to prevent this from happening again.
According to BART Police Deputy Chief Jeffrey Jennings, on April 22, some 45 to 50 teenagers illegally entered the Coliseum station by jumping over the fare gates; some boarded the Dublin/Pleasanton-bound train. He said a few on board and on the platform robbed and assaulted passengers, while most instigated or watched. Jennings added the suspects robbed seven people and punched two in the head or face. They got away with five cellphones, one duffle bag and one purse.
On Friday, BART Police staffers announced in a press release they had arrested one suspect and issued arrest warrants for others. Police arrested a second suspect in an unrelated robbery Friday night, BART police announced on Monday.
During an interview, outside of Thursday’s board meeting, Jennings did not reveal exactly how many suspects there were, but said officers used surveillance videos to identify them.
San Francisco resident David Janney has been riding BART for twenty-three years and he’s upset BART staffers didn’t stop the suspects before they boarded the train. “I was surprised and a little disappointed that this mob was not caught in the station rather than getting all the way to the train,” he said.
According to an April 24 press release, Coliseum agents notified BART Police at 9:30 that a large group of “juveniles” jumped over fare gates. Police officers arrived within five minutes of the call, but the suspects were able to finish the robberies before police could get to them. “No weapons were reported,” the release stated.
Janney said he’s somewhat concerned about riding BART at night, but his fears or the robberies won’t stop him. “For the most part I feel pretty safe, because BART is a great system. It’s always on time. They have a few problems. Who doesn’t?” he asked.
Dayan Romero, an Oakland elementary school teacher and BART rider, said hearing how many people were involved shook him up. “That’s pretty scary considering that it’s that many people. I was a little scared because I use this BART station everyday, Monday through Friday and sometimes on the weekends. I’m concerned for my students, for the parents, for basically everyone,” he said.
During Thursday’s meeting, Lateefah Simon, a member of BART’s board of directors, said the agency’s priority is safety. “I’m horrified about what happened this weekend,” she said. “For riders who are on a train, all we want is for them to be comfortable and safe.” She added that safety will take a community effort. “We have to really put our heads together—not just with this police force,” she said.
Jennings said the teens were coming from a party which was cut short due to a shooting. Simon said community intervention after the party could’ve prevented the BART robberies.
“From a number of community agencies that I’ve called, no adults were there to meet those children and de-escalate the trauma they had just seen. Social science says it and so does law enforcement: ‘Hurt people hurt people,’” said Simon.
Simon said when considering strategies, BART should consider the people they’re serving and what they could be going through. “We have said many times that BART is not a civil service agency, but our system exists in the context of these communities that they are placed in,” she said.
Jennings said fare evasion in general is a problem at BART that can lead to other crimes. Just days before the robberies, on April 18, BART released a plan called the “Fare Evasion Control Initiative.” The document states the agency loses $6 million annually due to fare evasion and estimated $9-$19 million as “speculative” funds lost.
Jennings said holding people accountable for paying fares will reduce other BART crimes. “In my opinion—it’s anecdotal,—no one’s paying to come into BART and commit a burglary or robbery or vandalism. Those people are probably fare evaders,” he said. He added BART has not gathered data to confirm that.
Jennings said the swarm of teens who robbed riders aren’t the only ones who evade fares. “People who have the means to pay, people in suits, dresses, going to work—they’re no longer paying also. Because they see people going through the turnstiles on a regular basis [and think], ‘Why should I be the person who’s paying? No one else is paying.’ It’s a business decision, whether it’s the moral or cultural thing to do,” he said.
Jennings said he’ll be enforcing new guidelines for officers to follow to prevent fare evasions. One of them is for officers to be more visible to passengers. “You’ll see a change in the region, because you’ll see cops are popping up on the trains and the platforms and the turnstiles to see if you’re paying or not,” Jennings said.
Simon is concerned that a greater police presence means people of color will be targeted by their attention. “What we aren’t going to do as a community is vilify youth of color in our great city of Oakland. Some of the messages I’ve received this week from the members of the public are horrifying and racist. We must protect riders and we must also protect children and communities. I think that the issues and solutions are extremely complicated,” she said.
BART’s new plan also calls for raising fare gate barriers to 60 inches tall, and to “incorporate elevators into the paid area or develop other efficient elevator solutions.” The agency is requesting $1.9 million in the fiscal year 2018 budget proposal for labor and materials to raise the barriers and $200,000 for elevators. BART staff projects these strategies will help recover $8 to $11 million annually.
As a longer-term solution, Jennings said BART officers will check tickets on trains. He said passengers who cannot present a ticket will have to get off. “Cracking down on fare evasion and the proof of payment that we’re trying to give the system, you will see a decrease in various acts on BART trains,” said Jennings.
Romero said he doesn’t think raising barriers will stop people from getting free rides. “I see it all the time. People of all ages, different kinds, always seem to find a way to get over those barriers and not have to pay. I think they’ll keep doing it. People can jump higher. People can climb,” he said.
And Romero believes the robberies happened because of a larger societal issue. “I think that what happened is a pretty multi-faceted problem. You have to also wonder why are these kids stealing? What’s going on in their lives? What’s going on with this economy? This culture? This government where people feel like they need to do certain things in order to better their life,” Romero said.
Simon said it’s important for BART and the community to consider passengers’ safety and young people’s rights as plans continue. “I also know that to address these issues systemically, we’re not going to be able to do that by simply increasing enforcement. These issues are deep,” said Simon. “Our children deserve our attention and our focus, as do the passengers who really lost their liberty that day.”
Jennings said the ticket-checking process could start as soon as this fall. Last month BART Police appointed Carlos Rojas, formerly of the Santa Ana Police Department, as their new chief. He’s scheduled to start May 24.