BART board member Janice Li on Thursday called for an audit of BART police citations. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

BART director wants police citations audited for bias

A dispute over a sandwich may spur a deeper look into BART’s policing practices.

A month after a video showing BART police detaining a man for eating a sandwich on a station platform went viral, one BART board member has called for staff to perform a full dive into police citations data — including the ethnicity of those cited.

At the BART Board of Directors regular meeting on Thursday, board member Janice Li said her request was partially motivated by a San Francisco Examiner report last week that detailed BART’s history of writing citations for eating and drinking disproportionately against black and brown riders.

“The article … showed black riders are disproportionately cited,” Li said. “The purpose of this presentation should be to provide a data-driven account of how (police) resources are deployed.”

Not everyone agreed that this was an issue.

In a heated exchange, BART board director Debora Allen alleged the information BART provided to the Examiner was incorrect, but said Li could investigate the data “if you want.”

Li represents San Francisco and Allen represents Contra Costa county. Generally in the BART board’s history, urban and suburban directors have been split on matters like public safety as their constituents often reflect different viewpoints.

Data BART provided to the Examiner in a records request showed 55 citations issued for eating and drinking between 2014 and 2019 were disproportionately issued to black and brown BART riders — 80 percent of those cited were people of color. Only nine people who said they were white were cited.

Only 10 percent of BART riders are black, and 35 percent of its riders are white.

Following this revelation, advocacy groups, BART riders and others skewered the agency’s police for the disportionate citations.

Allen argued new data regarding the number of citations for eating and drinking exonerates the police.

A BART spokesperson told the Examiner that “fewer than five” of the citations for eating and drinking in the data provided to news outlets may have actually been for a different offense because those citation codes changed over the years, leading to a reporting error.

But the proportion of citations issued to black and brown people would not be changed by such a small number of citations being revealed to be in error.

“Those five citations don’t change the conclusion, it’s still very disproportionate,” Li said. She also said she wants to see a full breakdown of all so-called “quality of life” citations issued by BART police to see if the pattern persists.

Tensions at BART have flared in recent months after high-profile incidents involving law enforcement, prompting different visions of safety on mass transit.

The video showing BART police detaining BART passenger Steve Foster for eating a sandwich at Pleasant Hill station sparked rebuke from people of color and advocacy groups for allegedly targeting a black man. Many of these people say they fear BART police officers.

But a stabbing death aboard a train last month also stoked the fears of more law-and-order minded passengers, prompting General Manager Bob Powers to authorize more police overtime. BART has added 58 officers to its ranks recently, about 30 of whom have not yet been cleared to deploy, officials said Thursday.

Also on Thursday, BART reviewed its quarterly performance metrics, which reveal how the agency is doing around patron safety and other considerations.

For the fourth quarter of 2019 to date BART is meeting goals on patron safety, with 1.58 station incidents per million patrons and .43 incidents per million patrons aboard its trains. Its goal is two incidents at stations per million patrons and .6 incidents per million riders aboard its vehicles.

BART is not meetings its goal regarding police presence aboard trains and at stations, which asks patrons to identify when they saw police on trains and around stations. Its goal is 11.9 percent visibility, but only 9 percent of riders answered they saw a police presence aboard trains and at stations.

Quality of life contacts between police and BART patrons are down from the last quarter in 2019, but higher than the same time in 2018.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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