OAKLAND (KPIX 5) – Members of the BART Board of Directors were shocked on Thursday when they saw video obtained by KPIX 5 that showed intravenous drug users blatantly shooting up in a corridor at Civic Center Station.
But despite that visceral reaction, there were still questions as to what authorities with the transit system were going to do to make changes.
The video shot by regular commuter Shannon Gafford showed the gauntlet of open drug use travelers have to walk through every morning at the Civic Center BART and Muni station.
When KPIX 5 asked members of the BART Board what they planned to do to fix the problem, they were uncertain there was any quick solution.
“You know, this is a very sobering video to see. I am, frankly, glad the rider has shared this,” said BART Director Bevan Dufty, the man responsible for Civic Center Station.
He admitted that the grim scene shown in the clip is the kind of thing that discourages some commuters from using BART.
“We’re losing some riders, and I know it’s because of these circumstances,” said Dufty. “And so we’re going to work very hard to see a change.”
When KPIX asked BART Police Lt. Gil Lopez what would it take to have someone around the clock to prevent that kind of blatant drug abuse, Lopez replied, “Well, obviously staffing.”
Lopez oversees BART police patrols in San Francisco’s four downtown stations.
“Here in downtown our beat structure is basically two officers for two stations,” explained Lopez.
Lopez says they are just are not enough officers right now to manage the flood of challenges produced by homelessness and drugs, two disasters unfolding on parallel tracks just above these stations.
Nearby shelter resident Maurice Benton told KPIX 5 he has watched the situation deteriorate as officers race from one problem to the next, meaning some stations are often left completely unguarded.
“It’s too widespread. Like I say the officers here, they’re busy every day,” said Benton. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen them. I come through here different times a day; first time seeing them.”
BART is trying to hire dozens of more employees specifically to address these kinds of issues, but that’s presenting another problem for the agency.
“BART has not been the most attractive place for candidates to be police officers to go. We’re trying to change that,” said Dufty.
So for now, the city is trying to offer more help.
“I have seen homeless outreach come down here to offer services,” said Benton.
But so far, both the city and BART have proven no match for a human crisis that offers no easy solutions.
When asked if the problem had gotten markedly worse lately, Lopez was quick to agree.
“Yes, it has,” said Lopez.
Dufty acknowledged that an increased police presence is the most obvious fix.
“I know that riders want to see more visible presence that is a deterrent, and I want people to know this is a priority to us as BART, and me as the director responsible for this station,” said Dufty.