OAKLAND (KPIX 5) – Amid growing concerns over crime and policing at Bay Area BART stations, a new report indicates that the transit system has seen a spike in the number of sexual assaults and robberies this year.
In the last 24 hours, there have been at least four documented crimes at BART stations. Transit officials are still facing a police-officer shortage and questions over how it handles crime data.
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Among the latest incident, a man reported he was punched and kicked while on the train Monday evening at the Bay Fair station by 3-4 older teens who took his iPhone and laptop computer, according to a police log. He was taken to the hospital for facial cuts and swelling.
No suspects were located. Later, a Good Samaritan tracked him down on Twitter to say he had found his stolen backpack.
According to a story published by the San Francisco Chronicle, sex assaults at BART stations are up with seven occurring just this year. Additionally BART stations have seen 45 percent more robberies in the first quarter.
Regular BART commuters KPIX spoke with said they have noticed the change.
“I don’t feel safe,” said one BART rider who gave her name only as Judith.
“Sometimes at night some of the characters can be a little shady, said rider Daniel Musa. It definitely feels a little more unsafe.”
“I’ve noticed a lot more crime on BART,” said BART rider April Stout.
BART’s new Police Chief Carlos Rojas is facing criticism for the way the agency reports crime. It recently started making the data available on the website Crimemapping.com. The site shows where and when crime happened, but doesn’t provide many details.
Meeting with BART’s safety committee on Tuesday, the new chief now says BART will go back to having the watch commander create a narrative summary of all the felony crimes that happen on the system.
“There isn’t another police department in the Bay are that does them in that fashion, but we are willing to go back and do them in that fashion,” said Rojas.
But the agency won’t release all surveillance video of crimes. A teen mob attacked and robbed Rusty Stapp’s family at the Coliseum stop. BART still hasn’t released video of that incident.
“I think they are worried more right now about the perception. I think if they saw this as a problem they would be releasing more videos,” said Stapp.
Rojas countered that there were good reasons for video not to be released in certain circumstances.
“When I look at releasing video, we want to make sure we don’t jeopardize the integrity of the prosecution of integrity of investigation,” explained Rojas.
On Tuesday, Rojas also said that the increase in rapes and other sexual crimes on the transit system so far this year is troubling but shouldn’t be blown out of proportion.
Rojas said FBI statistics show that there were seven rapes reported on BART property from January through the end of June, compared to four in 2016, three in 2015 and two in 2014.
He said there has also been an increase in the number of reported sexual assaults, with 28 in the first six months of the year, which is the same number of sexual assaults reported during all of 2016, which was already up 75 percent from 2015 when only 16 sexual assault cases were reported.
Rojas said that although all of the reported rapes involved sexual violence, not all involved forced sexual intercourse, which is the traditional definition of rape.
Under federal crime reporting standards, sexual assaults with the intent to commit rape are reported as rapes, he said.
“One rape or sexual assault is too many,” Rojas said.
He noted there’s no indication that the crimes, most of which occurred at East Bay stations, are connected and said arrests have been made in some but not all of the rape cases.
Rojas says he’s also focused on fully staffing his department. It is currently down about 40 officers, an issue he blames on a recruitment problem with the force.
Right now, there are only 136 police officers for 176 positions. That’s a vacancy rate of 23 percent. And the force could get stretched even thinner next year when two more BART stations open.
Rojas told the BART safety committee that applications have been declining.
“That is a challenge is the number of applications that we’re receiving,” said Rojas. “It’s very low and we’re hoping to make some improvements.”
In 2013, there were about 3,000 applicants to join the BART Police Department. Last year it was 750. And while there have been nearly 700 applicants so far this year, that’s still pretty low.
BART board member Debora Allen says she has heard complaints from police officers that may explain the problem.
It seems as though there’s some morale issue with our officers, and that stems from policies that have been adopted over the last several years that officers believe tie their hands with respect to doing their jobs, said Allen.
She gave some examples: as of January, juveniles can’t be cited for fare jumping. Bart gave police the power to stop seat hogs, but then took it away; BART recently passed a sanctuary policy. And the police have been fighting to defend their own use of force policy.
They fear a bit being reprimanded for the use of force, said Allen. There’s an awful lot of paperwork that occurs. These are the things I’m hearing from the officers.
But chief Rojas says he’s hearing more optimistic news
What I’ve been getting is a lot of positive feedback in what the future holds, said Rojas.
While Allen says the department should study why so few people are applying, Rojas wants to focus elsewhere.
Just because somebody applies doesn’t mean they’re qualified, said Rojas. So I really want to spend our time and effort on the back-end and really compressing our processes for recruitment, testing and hiring.
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