What Riders Need to Know
By Hannah Litwin
Downtown Berkeley Police Station. Photo Credit: Hannah Litwin
On Sept. 16, 2017, Julie Dragland was riding the Dublin/Pleasanton train when she was handed this note:
“There are 2 guns pointed at you now. If you want to live hand back your wallet + phone NOW + do not turn around and be descreet [sic]. Do not turn around until after you left Civic Center + you will live.”
Instead, Julie faked a seizure and caused a commotion which led to the woman who’d passed the note running off into Powell St. Station. Her photo is currently posted on bart.gov in the “News” section, so that anyone who recognizes her can help track her down.
2017 has seen an increase in violence and robberies, particularly on BART trains and stations. The most notorious incident occurred on the evening of April 22, when a mob of around forty to sixty intoxicated teenagers ambushed an entire cabin, robbing and injuring innocent passengers. How this incident was handled by BART officials raised controversy, as they initially chose not to do a press release and still haven’t released the security footage. The reason for this decision, according to BART Assistant General Manager Kerry Hamill in a memo released July 7th, is because the occurrence was a “petty crime” that would make BART look “crime ridden.” Furthermore, it would “unfairly affect and characterize riders of color, leading to sweeping generalizations in media reports.”
Now, the transit system is being sued by six of the traumatized passengers who were mugged that day, according to CBS San Francisco. The group had hopped the gates and proceeded to yell and pound on the shut cabin doors. Instead of calling security, the conductor opened the doors and allowed them onto the train.
Those two instances were not the only acts of violence to put BART in the news: On Aug. 3, a man heading towards Bay Fair Station was attacked by another passenger. The other passenger bashed his head in with metal bolt cutters, then punched and kicked him before fleeing the train, according to NBC Bay Area. On Aug. 11, a well known Berkeley chef named Oscar Castaneda was robbed and shot in the head (but not killed) near Ashby BART, according to Berkeleyside. That is just a taste of what kinds of attacks have been committed on our trains this past year.
According to CBS SF Bay Area, three kinds of crime have seen a jump this year: rape (six times as many calls as last year), assault (264 compared to 197 last year) and robbery (138 this year; 102 last year). The new BART police chief Carlos Rojas has attributed this to fewer BART police applicants and minimal funding.
The East Bay Times reported a story about Bay Area commuter Ben Friedland, who has created a website, bartcrimes.com, so that riders can see the daily crime logs that BART no longer posts. According to the SF Gate, almost 77 per cent of the trains sported decoy cameras until a controversy earlier this year. Only recently have the boxes meant to resemble cameras been replaced with actual cameras (an action spurred by a January 2016 incident involving a shooting).
This is the message seen on BART’s official website: “We have created additional overtime shifts for officers who will be visibly patrolling stations. We are also cooperating and sharing information with numerous law enforcement agencies and school districts, where we have had previous success in arresting juveniles who commit crimes on BART. We are not releasing the surveillance video footage to the public at this time due to the age of the suspects involved.”
Hopefully the 38 vacancies for BART police positions will be filled soon. As their official website has announced, there is even a $10,000 hiring bonus meant to entice potential applicants.
The BCC Voice solicited the opinions of two ticket agents at the Downtown Berkeley station. Their apprehension was palpable as one agent stated, “As a civilian, I would love to, but I could get fired.” The other agent avoided eye contact and agreed that he was “in the same boat” as his colleague. He did give permission for the short conversation to be mentioned in this story as long as his name was withheld. “I would prefer ‘station agent’,” he said.
Regardless of the outcome and of the opinions of BART officials, all riders should protect themselves by staying alert and cautious when on the trains and in the stations. Berkeley City College Students who use BART should also remain vigilant when walking to and from the stations. Some of these violent confrontations have occurred after the attacker watched the victim walk away from the station.
Stay updated on BART-related crime news at BART.gov/news/articles/2017.