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Civic Center BART station to get major cleanup, new services

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BART Police officers and a SF Homeless Outreach Team walk a corridor known for drug use at Civic Center BART station on Wednesday, June 20, 2018. Mayor Mark Farrell announced an increase in patrols by BART Police and SFPD. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

BART riders will soon see more police and less needles at Civic Center Station following the launch of a new multi-agency partnership tasked with cleaning up one of San Francisco’s most troublesome transit hub.

Mayor Mark Farrell and SFPD Chief Scott on Tuesday announced the addition of more police officers, health department employees and new needle kiosks to Civic Center Station to alleviate homelessness and public drug use Wednesday.

The multi-agency effort will increase SFPD’s presence in Civic Center Station more than fourfold with an additional 290 officer hours a week, and add 78 officer hours a week for BART police.

Homeless outreach workers will work in conjunction with police to support those without a home, who often suffer from mental illness and drug addiction.

The initiative comes after public outcry over a video that surfaced two months ago showing people using drugs along a hallway in Civic Center Station, which has received more rider complaints than any other, officials said.

BART has attempted to address the station’s problems in the past. In May The Examiner reported that BART sought to close the troublesome hallway after it closed an adjoining stairwell on Market Street and began staffing the elevators with attendants to prevent drug use and excreta inside.

SEE RELATED: BART seeks closure of Civic Center station hallway

Ahead of the press conference on Wednesday, however, the hallways were clean and classical music played over the loudspeakers.

“[Civic Center Station] is the doorway to our city government and city hall,” Mayor Farrell said at a press conference inside the station. “This is the heart of San Francisco and it has become, unfortunately, a glimpse into the homeless and behavioral health issues that we have here in San Francisco. It is not safe and it is not acceptable anymore.”

The joint plan will involve the San Francisco Police Department, the BART Police Department and the Healthy Streets Operation Center (HSOC), a coordinated effort of the police, Public Works, the Department of Public Health (DPH), the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing and 311.

“We knew we had to work better and more collaboratively to get these problems solved,” San Francisco Police Chief Scott said. “The idea that each department is responsible for separate law enforcement duties on this platform cannot be a barrier for us working together.”

The initiative will prioritize the removal of used needles from public spaces. A needle disposal kiosk three times larger than its predecessors was placed in Civic Center station about a week ago, according to the Department of Public Health.

SEE RELATED: Pilot program will staff attendants to stop people from urinating in BART, Muni elevators

Mayor Farrell notes that the kiosks are a cheap solution to the needle problem, but didn’t say how much they, and the coordinated effort of half a dozen departments, would cost.

BART has committed $1.6 million to fund homeless outreach teams and other quality of life initiatives, according to BART General Manager Grace Crunican.

Homeless people who frequent the station often need behavioral and mental health support. The Department of Public Health will increase the presence of its Street Medicine Team and Comprehensive Crisis Services to work with police and provide additional health and harm reduction services.

The DPH has also increased the number of employees picking up needles to 15 and will direct them to hot spots culled from public comment and 311 reports, according to DPH Director Barbara Garcia.

Garcia arrived with a needle removal kit in her purse, which included gloves, tongs and a small bio-hazard needle disposal container. Each member of the department’s executive team now carries one, she said.

The increased police presence will be implemented by July 2, according to officials.

“The status quo is simply unacceptable,” Farrell said. “This has been going on for quite some time.”

A new syringe disposal box sits near the entrance to Civic Center BART station at United Nations Plaza on Wednesday, June 20, 2018. Mayor Mark Farrell announced the measure alongside increased patrols by SFPD and BART Police to crack down on drug use at the station. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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