BART police data shows racial disparities in enforcement across the board

Black BART riders are overwhelmingly ticketed and cited more by BART police than any other race for “quality of life” violations, according to data released Friday.

The BART Police Department compiled a report on demographic data to look for potential racial disparities in enforcement. The report shows that nearly half of BART police citations for violations like fare evasion were handed out to black BART riders.

BART Board Director Janice Li requested the report after an Examiner story in November found, through a public records request, that black and brown BART riders were disproportionately issued citations for eating and drinking.

“The issues of race, law enforcement and policing are incredibly complex and they have historical roots,” Li said. “We’re taking this seriously and we’re going to create an action plan for a better transit system.”

The data shows enforcement citations that BART calls “quality of life” violations including fare evasion enforcement, disruptive behavior and conduct like smoking or eating. Of citations issued from 2018 to 2019, 46 percent to 55 percent of citations were issued to black riders in those categories. By comparison, only 10 percent of BART riders are black and 35 percent are white.

BART Chief of Police Ed Alvarez will present the findings of the report as well as an action plan to diminish the racial disparities in enforcement to the BART Board of Directors on Feb. 27. Li said the board would provide oversight to hold the chief accountable to see progress.

“My officers work hard every day to keep our system safe and serve our community.” BART Police Chief Ed Alvarez said in a statement. “We must examine these findings and better understand why they exist and how they relate to the homeless crisis that often leads to quality of life enforcements.”



Read the BART Police Department report on “quality of life” citations, embedded above.

BART police have provided officers with training to avoid racial profiling since 2015 and will participate in a year-long Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) training series to advance systematic racial equity. Independent Police Auditor Russell Bloom said the systemic issues around enforcement would not be remedied with an overnight fix.

“We’re aware of the racial disparity in policing nationally, at BART and everywhere else,” Bloom said. “It’s important that if the data is collected, the picture painted is not presented without a plan for action to better understand and find the remedy.”

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. The racial makeup of the 216 BART sworn police officers who patrol stations and train cars is 40 percent white, 19 percent each black and Asian and 23 percent Hispanic.

Complaints of racial profiling by BART police and conflicts with communities of color are not new. Most recently, in November 2019, a BART rider named Steve Foster was detained for eating a breakfast sandwich on the Pleasant Hill BART station platform in a video that went viral, drawing international attention to BART’s policing practices. That incident also prompted Li to request the report. BART police also shot a 17-year-old Feb. 15 at the El Cerrito del Norte station, drawing community inquiry.

“This is not surprising to anyone who has been riding BART as a person of color,” said Jeremy Williams from Oakland, who commutes on BART daily. Williams said he has been racially profiled by BART police in the past. “People have been saying this for years. Look at Oscar Grant, that was 10 years ago, what has changed since then?” he asked, referencing an Oakland man who was shot and killed by a BART officer on New Year’s Day 2009.

“So I wonder if training is enough,” he said.

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