OAKLAND (CBS SF) — In response to concerns about safety on the BART system, the transit agency’s board voted unanimously Thursday to approve an ambassadorship program in which unarmed officers will ride trains from 2 p.m. to midnight seven days a week, with extra coverage on Saturdays.
The six-month pilot program, which will cost $690,000, is scheduled to begin on Feb. 10.
The ambassadors will be recruited from the ranks of the BART Police Department’s Community Service Officers, non-sworn personnel who perform a variety of police services. The ambassadors will receive additional de-escalation and anti-bias training.
“This team will be police employees and trained to provide a sense of safety and security for our riders on-board trains and deter crime,” BART Interim Police Chief Ed Alvarez said in a statement.
“I worked closely with our board members, the general manager (Robert Powers), and police unions to develop a program that is responsive to our riders and is able to launch seamlessly, safely, and quickly,” Alvarez said.
BART officials said 10 ambassadors will walk trains in teams of two and will focus their patrols on the most heavily traveled section of the system, the transbay corridor between the 12th Street Oakland and San Francisco Civic Center stations.
During crowded evening commute hours, the ambassadors will increase their coverage areas to other sections of the system, such as from the Oakland Coliseum to Union City and Walnut Creek to Pittsburg/Bay Point portions.
“Our ambassadors will serve as extra eyes and ears on-board trains,” BART Board President Lateefah Simon said.
Simon said, “It’s a promising, first-of-its kind program at BART that will provide a welcoming presence focused on customer service and curbing inappropriate behavior.”
BART officials say crime is up 11 percent from 2018 to 2019. Many riders said they have seen it or experienced it.
“Personally, I was attacked and robbed on BART,” said rider Michael Marriott.
“BART door opened, my phone was snatched from my hands. The suspect ran out,” said theft victim Sammy Wredberg.
That incident happened three weeks ago. Wredberg believes the thief targeted her because she is blind. She has not ridden BART since the theft.
She hopes the new ambassador program will help her feel safe again.
“I’m traumatized. I’m scared. I’m very scared,” said Wredberg. “I’m dealing with anxiety and maybe PTSD.”
BART officials said the ambassadors will wear easily-identifiable uniforms that are distinct from those of community service officers or fare inspectors.
The ambassadors will be equipped with radios to report safety and security concerns or biohazards and will also be trained to respond to customers’ questions, complaints or requests for service.
The ambassadors will observe and report and call an officer when enforcement is needed.
“I am pleased existing community service officers who are vetted, hired, trained and supervised by sworn police officers will be on trains on nights and weekends,” said BART Director Debora Allen. “I’ve been urging BART to add additional layers of security on board trains since I was elected to the board and our vote today is a step in the right direction.”
The pairs of ambassadors will ride the train from 2 p.m. to midnight every day.
“It’s a puzzle that we’re putting together to regain the trust of our riders and I think this is a big piece of it,” said BART Board Director Bevan Dufty.
Riders KPIX spoke with expressed hope the ambassador program will work.
“A couple sets of eyes and ears looking for the problems before they get out of control would be a great improvement,” said BART commuter Michael Marriott.
“Cleaning up these trains, making them safe? I’ll all for it,” said BART rider Griffin Ormond.
Da Lin contributed to this story.