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CA Assembly Hearing on BART's Deeply Inept, Reckless, and Corrupt Police Force, 10/20/09: audio and PDFs
At the State Capital in Sacramento on October 20th, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, chair of the Committee on Public Safety, held a hearing to restart the process of reigning in BART's dysfunctional police department from the state level. (Audio and PDFs from the hearing below.) Apparently intended to lay the groundwork for future hearings, the subject matter of the hearing was limited largely to a review of the Meyers Nave report on events surrounding the murder of Oscar Grant III on January 1st and the NOBLE report on BART's police department itself. Hearings on police oversight at BART, including discussions of both AB312 and AB1586, are expected to begin in January or February 2010. Through the end of this year, the more community pressure placed on BART and public safety committee members the better for those seeking justice for Oscar Grant.
In April, when Ammiano, then as a non-ranking member of the public safety committee, held a hearing on his bill AB312, which would have established police oversight at BART in the model of San Francisco's Police Commission and Office of Citizens' Complaints, BART showed up at the last minute with a letter assuring the committee that they had it under control and didn't need state intervention. Between BART's "just trust us" stalling tactic and the representatives of every police union in the state vocally opposing the measure, AB312 was dead on the tracks.
BART did begin to hold a series of meetings, public and semi-public, in order to craft their own police oversight plan, but the deck was stacked against accountability from the get. There was a pretense of public involvement, but much of the plan was created behind closed doors and concessions to BART police were made all along the way, in hopes that a "consensus" plan would have a better chance of being enacted. Of course, it turns out that BART had little intention of following through with a plan that reflected even a modicum of what the public and community activists had been demanding all along, primarily that citizens and the BART Board of Directors would have the final say in matters of police discipline, not the General Manager and the Police Chief, neither of whom has seen fit to discipline a single person for the many failures of their officers and supervisors. While BART was a orchestrating photo op using "community" members as props, they were also negotiating with police representatives out of public view to remove whatever teeth their already-weakened oversight plan contained. In the end, neither the concessions to police made during the crafting of the plan nor the complete betrayal of community activists in giving the police lobby exactly what they wanted in the final language of the proposed bill helped AB1586 actually move forward in the legislature. And so, for the second time this year, as of September police oversight at BART was dead.
And so, we are where we find ourselves today... The Meyers Nave report, which dealt with the misconduct of individual officers and supervisors related to the New Year's Day murder, has been out since August and not a single person at BART has been held accountable to date. The NOBLE report, which excoriates the entire BART police department in every way possible, has been out almost a month and BART still insists that it needs an armed police force of its own. And now Ammiano, as committee chairman, is stepping back into the fray after having his efforts frustrated in April. He called on representatives of BART, Meyers Nave, and Peace Officers Standards and Training to testify before the public safety committee.
Jayne Williams, of Meyers Nave, addressed the committee first, flatly recounting points made in the public version of the report produced by her law office. During her segment of the hearing, Ammiano questioned the 6-hour detainment of Oscar Grant's friends with handcuffs and showed interest in the fact that BART supervisors allowed the high-resolution video of the murder stolen from Tommy Cross to be viewed by officers from the scene before they filed their incident reports. Assemblymember Jerry Hill presciently asked if BART even needs a police force. Of course, Jayne Williams replied that BART does (just as NOBLE feebly did in their report).
Bob Stresak, of the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), runs through state standards in the training of police officers without offering any specific information or critiques of BART police and their training (or lack thereof). Ammiano asked questions related to applicant screening and policies regarding the use of tasers versus other weapons. Bob Stresak says that not every police department in the state uses tasers so there is no state-wide sanctioned training in their use. Jerry Hill asks about transit police training versus other types of departments. Fiona Ma asks about records kept by POST and it told that they are non-public and have to be sought through the California Public Records Act (which is ironic in that Fiona Ma is one of the reasons police still enjoy legal protections not offered to any other group of people due to the continued existence of the California Police Bill of Rights).
BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger and BART PD Commander Travis Gibson, along with BART lawyer Matt Burrows, spoke to the Meyers Nave NOBLE reports and the supposed corrective actions BART is taking. Police Chief Gary Gee was said to be on medical leave and unavailable to attend, which is par for course when he's failed to make any serious adjustments to his department in the many months since the murder of Oscar Grant and he appears to be cruising to receiving his full retirement by the end of the year. BART brought print-outs to show just how active they are in responding to the reports and how necessary their police force actually is. But as pointed out by one of two public speakers, the supposed fact sheet offered by BART lists weapons confiscated by BART over the years (implying that BART police must be armed to respond), the simple listing of numbers gives no indication of how many of those weapons were being used in the commission of crimes on BART. Any numbers BART presents regarding police actions are suspect as the NOBLE report makes abundantly clear that record keeping in BART's police department is shabby to non-existent.
Basically, the only thing that BART has done to date to respond to the murder of Oscar Grant is to spend close to $400,000 to hire Meyers Nave and NOBLE to tell them what community activists have been telling them all along. Dorothy Dugger is very slippery when she addresses the Meyers Nave report, stating that the full version is non-public, ignoring that no personnel actions have been taken against named offenders, and then moving right along to *future* actions BART is taking or intends to take. Their "action plan" only addresses issues raised in the public version of the Meyers Nave report which does not name names. As BART has before in Board meetings, Dugger trumpets that all use of force incidents will now be reported by BART police, as if the fact that they supposedly will no longer let their officers run around using force on passengers without reporting it is such a magnificent achievement. She touts that they are working on revising their police policy manual, sections of which have not been updated in decades according to Meyers Nave (thanks, Chief Gee). And they claim to be increasing the number of hours officers are trained. None of which address the bad actors in their midst who surely would be as resistant to change as Gary Gee has been over the years. Additionally, most of the supposed improvements, such as standardizing disciplinary procedures, are not verifiable in a world where people like Dorothy Dugger and Gary Gee alone have the power to enforce discipline, having shown no inclination to discipline officers videotaped verbally and physically abusing BART passengers and perjuring themselves in court.
Despite BART continuously attempting to operate in the dark out of public view, tidbits of information do come forward in events such as these. For instance, it was learned that Johannes Mehserle was not drug tested after shooting Oscar Grant in the back. (Gibson was droning on about it being BART police policy to drug test after such incidents, but the lack of testing in the case of Mehserle only came to light after Ammiano asked about it. Gibson was more or less misleading the committee to believe that Mehserle had been tested.) Mehserle supposedly wasn't even interviewed by superiors or internal investigators after the shooting, so his supposedly not having been tested is not shocking. (Yes, the word "supposed" is used a lot when discussing BART because so much of the information they offer is not independently verifiable and they have shown themselves to have virtually no credibility.) It can safely be assumed that none of the other officers on the Fruitvale BART platform were tested either. Several witnesses at the scene reported that the officers seemed "jacked up" unnecessarily, leading to questions of steroid or other stimulant drug use by BART officers. Laughably, Gibson offers only two words for why Mehserle was not tested: "because of."
At one point during the hearing, Gibson discusses BART police having rubber bullets and OC (tear gas) in their arsenal. (For what, who knows? Oh, yeah, in order to confront Justice for Oscar Grant demonstrators the BART police Tactical Team parades in full regalia. And at what expense, who knows?) In his instinctual defense of fellow officers, even those who brutalize and murder, Gibson trots out yet again that there was supposedly an incident earlier on New Year's Eve where officers had responded to an incident involving a a weapon. While that is irrelevant to the point he is making in defending BART police supervisors on the night of the murder, he makes sure to repeat this rationale that BART police have thrown out before as a sort of excuse for the police aggression that culminated in the shooting death of Oscar Grant. Gibson goes out of his way to dispute the accusation in the Meyers Nave report that police supervisors were not doing their jobs around the time of Oscar Grant's death. Jerry Hill asked Gibson about the police complaint process. In a sign of how seriously BART takes citizen complaints and police violence against passengers, Gibson claims, as have others at BART, that the department only receives an average of 12-15 complaints a year -- yet even with such a small number he does not know how many of those were for excessive force. No word on if the man who was tasered while handcuffed by BART police filed a complaint.
Public speakers pointed out that the logical conclusion to be drawn from the reports, especially NOBLE's -- and the fact that a part-time Board of Directors will never be able to properly oversee their police -- is that BART police are "too broke to fix" and should be disbanded. There is no reason for such a militarized force in the BART system. As for BART's claims of reform, there is little reason to trust anything they say on the matter as they have not acted in good faith since the murder of Oscar Grant -- every last person involved in the incident is still on the BART payroll. And if there is to be a BART police force, it must have strong civilian oversight or the problems will continue.
Unfortunately, only three committee members were present for the hearing: Tom Ammiano, Jerry Hill, and Fiona Ma, who arrived late. While just three community activists were able or willing to attend, two of whom made statements during the public comment period at the end, there were over a dozen people in suits in attendance of unknown identity. Presumably several of whom were members of PORAC (Police Officers Research Association of California) and other police lobbying groups. Gregg Savage, President of the BART Police Managers' Association and member of the BART police oversight subcommittee, was seen in attendance, speaking to those seated around him. None of those watching from the back stepped up to comment during the hearing.
The next hearings on the BART Police Department before the Assembly's Committee on Public Safety are expected to be scheduled for January or February.
It is hoped that Chairman Ammiano and other committee members show more resolve than they did previously, and that they do not kowtow to the interests of police lobbies, already over-represented in state law. If legislators crumble to police pressure, then 2010 will look no different than 1992, 2001, or 2009 and BART's dangerous police force will carry on as it always has without transparency and accountability.
California State Assembly Committee on Public Safety:
Tom Ammiano - Chair, Dem-13, San Francisco (916) 319-2013 Assemblymember.Ammiano [at] assembly.ca.gov
Curt Hagman - Vice Chair, Rep-60, Los Angeles (916) 319-2060 Assemblymember.Hagman [at] assembly.ca.gov
Juan Arambula, Ind-31, Fresno (916) 319-2031 Assemblymember.arambula [at] assembly.ca.gov
Warren T. Furutani, Dem-55, Long Beach (916) 319-2055 Assemblymember.Furutani [at] assembly.ca.gov
Danny D. Gilmore, Rep-30, Kings/Kern Co (916) 319-2030 Assemblymember.Gilmore [at] assembly.ca.gov
Jerry Hill, Dem-19, San Mateo (916) 319-2019 Assemblymember.Hill [at] assembly.ca.gov
Fiona Ma, Dem-12, San Francisco (916) 319-2012 Assemblymember.Ma [at] assembly.ca.gov
BART Board of Directors:
boardofdirectors [at] bart.gov
NOBLE Presents Disturbing Report on BART Police Department, 10/1/09: audio and full report
BART Police Oversight Plan Dead
BART Releases Public Report from Meyers Nave Investigation of New Year's Day Murder, 8/18/09
Audio missing first ten minutes of hearing, including Ammiano's opening statements and very beginning of Meyers Nave presentation. Public comment begins near the very end at about 1:30:00.
The comparison with a city population is disingenuous, unless you're talking about a city where all residents are only present for less than an hour a day. These statistics on BART police must be taken with a huge grain of salt as BART police record-keeping has been shown to be substandard, to put it mildly, or corrupt, to call it out as the NOBLE and Meyers Nave reports did.
The public Meyers Nave report and the NOBLE report were posted to Indybay when originally released. The BART "action plan" included here (twice mistakenly by the committee) was discussed at the Board meeting when NOBLE released their report on October 1st, and appears to have been drafted by the next day from notes at that meeting, but a written version of this plan has not been posted to the site before.