I wasn’t planning on writing about San Francisco all day, but NBC Bay Area has produced a 5-part video series about crime on the BART system that is worth a look. Back in June, a grand jury report revealed that crime was up sharply on the BART system.

The report released Monday by the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury found the number of robberies on the transit system increased by 128%, from 153 in 2014 to 349 last year. Aggravated assaults soared by 83%, from 71 to 130 over the same time period.

Robberies and aggravated assaults combined jumped nearly 16% from 2017 to 2018 alone, according to the report, with robberies spiking 20% and aggravated assaults rising 7%…

Many transit officials link the rising crime rate to rampant fare-beating on the rail lines, which according to the report is significantly higher than BART previously stated. A senior manager at the transit agency told the grand jury that about 15% of riders do not pay their fares — or 17.7 million passengers out of 118 million. BART officials estimate that about 5% of riders evade fares.

Another factor making life difficult for commuters was the increased presence of homeless people on the trains. After a push to push the homeless out of stations, many simply got on the trains and turned them into moving homes, even using them as bathrooms. So that’s the background for this 5-part NBC report on BART. Part one starts with a summary of the system and then highlighting some of the extreme behavior that has become normalized for many riders. You can ask almost anyone on a BART train what they’ve seen while riding and be guaranteed to get an eye-opening story in response.

Part 2 focuses on the history of BART. It was launched in the early 1970s with the promise that it would be the best, most advanced train system in the world. And for a while it may have been that but now many associate it with the bay area’s problem: crime, drugs, and homelessness.

Part 3 focuses on safety. It features an interview with Anthony Delgado, a janitor who was attacked while working outside a BART station. Delgado was hit with something metal, he isn’t sure what, and lost partial vision in his left eye. He has screws and plates in his forehead to repair the damage. This segment also features an interview with BART’s acting police chief who admits he doesn’t have enough officers to keep people safe. BART has plans to hire nearly 100 officers in the next five years but the acting chief admits he’d need 1,000 officers to cover every station, train and parking lot in the system.

In part 4, NBC Bay Area reveals that BART police have refused to release any video of violent crimes to the media, even if those cases have been prosecuted and are considered resolved. It seems this public system has found a loophole in the law which, it claims, means it does not have to share the video with the public.

This isn’t the first time BART has refused to release video of crime. Back in 2017 Ed wrote about a string of attacks by large groups of young people. BART’s Assistant General Manager refused to even issue a press release for fear it would make the system look “crime-ridden” and also expressed concern it would result in minorities being stereotyped:

According to a memo distributed to BART Directors, the agency won’t do a press release on the June 30 theft because it was a “petty crime” that would make BART look “crime ridden.” Furthermore, it would “unfairly affect and characterize riders of color, leading to sweeping generalizations in media reports.”

The memo was from BART Assistant General Manager Kerry Hamill.

Allen emailed Hamill, “I don’t understand what role the color of one’s skin plays in this issue [of whether to divulge information]. Can you explain?” Hamill responded, “If we were to regularly feed the news media video of crimes on our system that involve minority suspects, particularly when they are minors, we would certainly face questions as to why we were sensationalizing relatively minor crimes and perpetuating false stereotypes in the process.” And added her opinion of the media: “My view is that the media’s real interest in the videos of youth phone snatching incidents isn’t the desire for transparency but rather the pursuit of ratings. They know that video of these events will drive clicks to their websites and viewers to their programs because people are motivated by fear.”

I suspect that’s the real reason NBC still can’t get video of crimes on BART without taking legal action:

Finally, part 5 of the series deals primarily with fare jumping. As you can see in that report I quoted up top, BART claims only 5 percent of riders get on without paying but other estimates suggest the figure may be closer to 15 percent. That matters for several reasons, starting with the fact that free riders means the system has less money to hire police and janitors to keep the system safe and clean. Bart has plans to install new gates which should significant decrease fare jumping. The cost to install them at every station is estimated at $150 million and BART doesn’t currently have the money to do that.

BART’s problems may not be worse than the problems in the cities it serves, but it happens to be the place where many residents encounter those problems on a daily basis. If riders get accustomed to the homeless, the threats, the theft, and the violence there won’t be much impetus for the city to make improvements. Hopefully this report will turn up the heat a little on city officials and encourage them to do better.