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BART Tries To Tackle Crime With An Understaffed Police Force

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- BART is facing a shortage of police officers as ridership and concerns around crime grow.

It's just the latest trouble for the regional transit system, as questions continue to swirl about how it handles crime on its trains. BART has been reluctant to release videos or detailed reports of recent crimes on the commuter line.

BART board director Joel Keller said, "I think we have to do more to protect our riders. There is a sense among our riders that they are not being protected as well as they could be."

Protecting riders and informing them about crime is a growing issue on the Bay Area's biggest commuter line. And now there is a new twist: a shortage of cops on BART as well.

Keller said, "Staffing in the police department is about 20 percent below the authorized strengths."

With the new expansion to San Jose, BART should have 224 cops to serve the 109 miles of line.

But right now, BART isn't reaching that number.

BART police deputy chief Jeffrey Jennings said, "We have 178 officers total...that covers all the beats."

Jennings said, "No, we don't have enough officers."

The lack of officers was one reason given for why BART started paring back information given to the media about crimes being committed on the system, although politics may have played a role as well.

BART assistant general manager Kerry Hamill said, "We don't release when it comes to minors."

And in a memo, Hamill also said press releases on crimes could "unfairly affect and characterize riders of color."

Keller responded to Hamill memo, saying, "I was kind of surprised that we would bring race into this. I think our emphasis should be on making sure that our riders are safe."

One change already in the works is that police will go back to writing more complete reports for the media.

Deputy chief Jennings said, "We reinstated it. Only showing felony crimes. Before we showed a lot of other crimes that weren't of regional interest, a lot of bike thefts, low-level crimes."

Deputy chief Jennings said, "So our numbers have relatively remained the same -- our staffing amounts -- and our ridership has doubled. And that has been an ongoing issue that now we are dealing with it at DEFCON 1."

BART has budgeted the money to hire cops but they aren't paying as much as other jurisdictions.

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