What began as a controversial pilot program to introduce alternatives to traditional armed law enforcement at BART is an integral part of Regionalbahn’s efforts to protect the well-being of all of its drivers.

The Community Ambassador program, which uses uniformed unarmed officers to respond to calls related to mental health, homelessness, and substance abuse, provides education and de-escalation to prevent conflict before it occurs and now ensures that Drivers are following pandemic-related safety protocols. celebrated its one year anniversary on Wednesday.

In the past 12 months, the program run by the BART Police Department had a wide reach.

Ambassadors have had more than 12,000 educational interactions. Of these, a police officer was only called 132 times, according to a BART statement.

They also chatted with nearly 10,000 people on platforms and handed out more than 1,000 masks.

“Additional uniformed personnel has been very well received by our drivers and staff,” said deputy director Angela Averiett, who was in charge of the newly established community progressive policing and engagement office. “You are the face of BART out there, interacting with the public.”

Inspired by a similar initiative on Muni for some bus routes to school, it took the pilot years to get going, mainly led by the efforts of BART board members Bevan Dufty, Janice Li and Lateefah Simon. It started with 10 ambassadors and around $ 1 million in funding from BART and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

“Two years ago there were many questions about whether the BART ambassador experiment was worth it. However, I firmly believed in setting up this program because I knew it would improve our driving experience and address safety concerns, “said Li.” We now have an answer to these questions: Our BART ambassadors are a complete success, with support both our top minds at BART PD and our drivers. “

With the approval of the 7-2 BART Board in October 2020, the Bureau of Progressive Policing and Community Engagement was formalized with the mandate to recruit a total of 40 dedicated officers, including public relations specialists, crisis intervention specialists with a “social work background” and transit ambassadors “Experience in community service”.

Going forward, the agency estimates annual costs at $ 2.8 million plus an additional $ 300,000 in training costs, all of which have been estimated for the coming fiscal years.

The creation of this office is the final step in BART’s long journey to repair its image as a crime and racist enforcement agency. The agency continues to pursue the murder of 22-year-old Oscar Grant by a BART police officer at Fruitvale Station in Oakland in 2009. The case last re-emerged when the Alameda District Attorney’s Office decided last month not to bring charges against any of the other officials involved.

A six-year investigation by the BART Police Department, published in January by the Center for Policing Equity, an organization helping law enforcement agencies across the country to reduce enforcement bias, shows clear evidence of racial bias against black BART passengers, one of the harmful realities that the Community Ambassador program seeks to improve.

From 2012 to 2017, more than half of the drivers stopped by the BART police were black, despite making up only 8.7 percent of the drivers. More stops were made in areas with higher poverty rates and racial disparities widened when stops in wealthier areas were considered.

Of all recorded incidents of violence, 63 percent of those involved were black, which is 13 times more likely that BART PD officers will experience violence than white drivers.

BART Police Chief Ed Alvarez, who earlier this month said he wanted to build “the most progressive police force in America,” pledged to adopt the CPE’s six recommendations to address the apparent racist bias.

These include improving data collection efforts, updating tariff enforcement guidelines, revising certain BART PD guidelines such as: B. The rules on when a firearm is drawn and the redoubling of efforts to build mutual trust between members of the community and law enforcement agencies.

Alvarez, who oversaw the establishment of the Progressive Policing Bureau, was also a firm believer in the effectiveness of the Community Ambassador program. He painted a picture on the chalkboard where the future of BART policing could include greater accountability, an emphasis on improving the quality of life, and an emphasis on connecting the homeless, mental illness and substance abuse to services.

“We must treat all people fairly and equitably,” Alvarez said in a statement. “That is what I expect from everyone at BPD. We are here to protect and serve. We will continue to work to build bridges and work with the communities we serve. “

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