Every BART police offer who patrols the agency’s trains, stations and waiting areas will soon be equipped with a Taser.
BART’s board of directors voted unanimously on Thursday to purchase 130 new Tasers, an acquisition that will bring the agency’s total to 190, enough for each one of the department’s patrol officers.
The vote to purchase the 130 Tasers required two-thirds approval of the BART board, a threshold easily surpassed given the approval of all nine members.
Despite the unanimous vote, the decision to add more Tasers in the wake of the 2009 Oscar Grant shooting to the department had its detractors.
Rashidah Grinage, executive director of PUEBLO, an Oakland-based civil rights organization, said there needs to be wholesale reform of the mentality of BART’s police officers before more weapons should be added to their arsenal.
“Right now, most BART officers are still not comfortable with the people they encounter, so they act out of fear,” said Grinage. “And that usually means striking preemptively. Putting a Taser in every officer’s hand gives them another excuse not to engage.”
On New Year’s Day 2009, BART police officer Johannes Mehserle fatally shot Grant, an unarmed passenger, on the boarding platform of BART’s Fruitvale Station. Mehserle’s eventual defense was that he thought he was reaching for his Taser but mistakenly grabbed his gun.
“The ironic thing is that Mehserle’s excuse was that he was reaching for his Taser,” said Grinage. “Now every officer could use that same line.”
However, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement executives, which reviewed BART’s practices following Grant’s death, recommended the purchase of enough Tasers to outfit every one of the agency’s police officers. BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey and the department’s police review committee also supported the initiative.
BART’s Taser contract will cost the department $140,755.