OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — Ten years after 22-year-old Oscar Grant was shot and killed by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle at an Oakland station, the transit agency’s department looks much different.
Grant was fatally shot at the Fruitvale BART station a few hours after midnight on New Year’s Eve 2009.
Mehserle claimed he meant to shoot Grant with his taser, but drew his gun by mistake. Mehserle was charged with murder and a trial was held in Los Angeles where the jury convicted him of involuntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to two years in jail and was released in 2011.
The incident exposed a number of shortcomings in the BART police department: inadequate training and oversight, antagonism with the public, and outdated policies. Eight months after the shooting, BART police chief Gary Gee retired.
Videos of the shooting were seen around the world and fueled an already-growing demand for a civilian oversight model of policing.
“The triggering event of Oscar Grant’s shooting certainly made it an important time for BART to take some action,” said Russell Bloom, BART’s Independent Police Auditor. Along with the BART Police Citizen Review Board, he investigates and oversees BART police.
The BART Police Citizen Review Board is made up of eleven members of the community, appointed by the BART Board of Directors.
“We bring an objective view to the process which should be, and I hope it is, reassuring to the public. That’s what I think will develop over time in the creation of a more trusting relationship, despite any historical experiences that people have had,” Bloom told KPIX.
“It’s important to know also that the current chief [BART police chief Carlos Rojas] and chief’s command staff and the BART Board of Directors are not obstructionist when it comes to hearing and listening to the suggestions that are made either by my office or the BART Police Citizen Review Board,” Bloom said.
The Police Auditor investigates complaints against BART police and makes recommendations for discipline to the Review Board. If the Review Board agrees, the police chief must implement the discipline. An appeal of the decision requires a discussion with Bloom and a member of the Review Board.
In addition to creating civilian oversight, BART police changes include, wearing body cameras, crisis intervention training, and publicly share crime-mapping data.
Bloom says oversight is not about hamstringing police in their duty to keep people safe.
“We really only focus on issues of misconduct, and officers are absolutely able to protect riders without engaging in misconduct,” Bloom said. “We encourage the police department to do everything it can to maintain safety for the riders.”
There will be a vigil for Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale station on Tuesday to mark the ten year anniversary of his death.