OAKLAND (KPIX 5) -- As it looks for ways to increase ridership, BART is ramping up security to try to give riders greater peace of mind.
Whenever BART surveys its customers it always gets the same response: they'd like to see more police presence on the trains and in the stations. Apparently, BART heard that message and the effort started Monday night.
Ride BART long enough and you're liable to see it all, from aggressively bad behavior to the blatantly illegal. And most riders have gotten used to it.
"It's just like a private train. Everybody just stays to themselves," said frequent rider River Ortega. "They make sure there's no eye contact in case anything crazy goes on."
When asked if he ever felt afraid, rider Ralph Knight said, "Sometimes, I feel a little bit nervous, a little afraid…that something could happen."
But Monday night, six new two person police teams began regular patrols on platforms and on trains in the core Oakland/San Francisco stations. The teams will work evenings and weekends, the times when riders say they feel most vulnerable.
This hasn't been done regularly in the past because BART Police have relied on a beat system that assigned one officer to cover several stations, driving between them in a patrol car. But in recent days, BART's Board of Directors approved hiring 19 new officers specifically to increase police presence on the trains and platforms.
"We just had barely enough officers to cover that beat structure that we have," said Deputy Chief Lance Haight. "Now that we've hired many more officers, we can finally get to a level to layer on top of that to have a train team to patrol the trains as well."
And while the officers riding the train on Monday were an unaccustomed sight for rider Sheryl Danielson, just by standing there they seemed to produce the desired effect.
"The second we saw them come on we said, 'Wow, this is the first time we've ever seen them patrolling the cars,' and it made us feel instantly more comfortable," Danielson said.
And now the hope is with the police presence, more riders will feel comfortable and no longer have to be afraid to make eye contact.
The new officers are permanent hires and BART says they will continue their evening patrols for the foreseeable future. The armed police patrols began Monday but in February, five teams of so-called "BART Ambassadors" will also begin riding the trains, serving as observers and adding increased presence throughout the system.
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