Editor’s Notes

Pub date June 9, 2009
WriterTim Redmond


The long, long battle to get civilian oversight for the BART police is coming to a head, and the BART Board could be voting soon on a proposal. To nobody’s surprise, the battle lines pit the community activists, the progressives on the BART Board, and police-review experts against the BART police and general manager.

In essence, the cops and the GM want to be sure that the police chief or the general manager (who hires and fires the chief) have the final say over any police discipline. The community wants either the BART Board or an independent citizen commission to have the final say.

It’s a crucial issue, as we’ve seen over and over again in San Francisco. Police chiefs don’t tend to be terribly good about taking disciplinary action against the troops; they all started in the rank and file themselves, and they’re close with the others on the "Thin Blue Line," and when one of their own is criticized, they circle the wagons. Most chiefs don’t want any sort of civilian review that undermines their authority.

BART is leaning toward creating an independent police auditor, which could work — but only if the auditor (who would report to the BART Board) has the authority to go over the chief’s head. If the auditor finds evidence of misconduct and the chief won’t file charges, or the chief finds misconduct and imposes discipline so mild it’s pointless, the auditor has to be able to appeal. And the best forum for that appeal is a citizen commission.

At the June 8 meeting of BART’s police policy subcommittee, the two representatives of the police union flat out refused to go along with that idea. So did General Manager Dorothy Dugger, who has never been very supportive of police reform. But a 5-4 majority of the committee, including board members Tom Radulovich and Lynette Sweet, seems in favor of model that at least has the outlines of positive reform.

And if the BART Board — which is not the most progressive institution on the planet (and not the hardest-working or most effective, either) decides to go with the cops on this one, Assembly Member Tom Ammiano will have all the evidence he needs to pass a bill in Sacramento forcing BART to do this right. *