Only about 40 percent of BART police officers appear to live in any of the 23 cities served by the agency, which critics say is certainly a factor behind the recent conflicts between the force and its passengers.
Of the 102 BART Police Officer Association members whose home address and personal information were recently published by website hackers, just 41 reside in cities with BART service. And the complexion of their hometowns is often quite different from the urban Bay Area.
Click on the photo at right to see residence maps and statistical breakdowns of the BART police force.
For instance, six officers hail from Tracy, a San Joaquin County suburb that’s 51 miles away from BART’s Oakland headquarters. Three more live in Mountain House, just north of Tracy, and one more in Patterson, well to the south. Two more commute all the way from Manteca, which is roughly equidistant between The City and Yosemite.
Meanwhile, just five live in San Francisco, and seven in Oakland.
John Burris, an Oakland-based lawyer who specializes in police abuse, said this information points to the police agency’s dangerous lack of familiarity with the communities it serves.
“In these urban areas, there is a diverse ethnic community, and you should have an equally diverse department,” Burris said. “When officers live outside the area, they view the community they serve as ‘them.’ The officers don’t have a connection with ‘them,’ and that can lead to overreactions, false arrest and abuse.”
Johannes Mehserle, the white BART police officer who fatally shot the unarmed black passenger Oscar Grant, lived in Napa, a city with a white majority that’s not served by BART. And while the address of the officer who apparently shot knife-wielding transient Charles Hill was not revealed by hackers, the other officer involved in the incident appears to live outside BART’s footprint.
POA President Jesse Sekhon said it doesn’t matter where officers live, since many grew up in urban environments.
“The sad fact of the matter is that our guys can’t afford to live in cities like San Francisco,” said Sekhon, who grew up and lives in a BART-serviced city. “But that doesn’t mean we’re not familiar with the people we serve.”
Abel Habtegeorgis of the Ella Baker Center, an Oakland civil rights organization, said local residents often complain that police officers are unapproachable strangers.
“There is a long, storied history of tension and distrust about the police, and that includes BART officers,” Habtegeorgis said. “Because there isn’t that connection of culture and community, there is a greater risk of severe and deadly misunderstandings.”
BART’s police have been extensively examined by independent consultants since the Grant shooting. The most robust report, by a national black police officers association, said the department should review its use of force and track racial profiling. Burris said those areas still need improvement.
The department has more than tripled the hours of training required for its officers since the Grant shooting.
However, police Chief Kenton Rainey, who was hired in the wake of the Grant shooting, recently said only 10 percent of the force has received specialized crisis-intervention courses.