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Protestors demanding justice for Oscar Grant line the sidewalk outside of the Renee C. Davidson Superior Courthouse in Oakland, Calif. at the start of Johannes Mehserle's preliminary hearing on Monday, May 18, 2009. (Laura A. Oda/staff)
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BART's initial draft of a plan for civilian oversight over transit police is getting a rocky reception from critics who say the plan is too weak.

The proposal, a response to an officer's fatal Jan. 1 shooting of Oscar Grant III, calls for the BART board to hire an independent police auditor to investigate officer-involved shootings and citizen complaints of excessive force. But the auditor would lack authority to determine or overturn disciplinary decisions made by the BART police chief.

The proposal also calls for creation of a citizens advisory board with limited powers. The panel would get reports from the auditor about excessive force complaints, and made recommendations about police policies, training and community relations.

"I see a document that has no teeth, no funding, and no accountability," said Dana Blanchard, one of about 40 people who attended a public meeting BART held Friday night in Oakland to unveil the proposal. "If this model was in place the night Oscar Grant was murdered, what would have been done differently?"

Johannes Mesherle, who resigned from the BART police force after shooting Grant in the back on New Year's Day, is charged with murder in the killing.

Cephus Johnson, Oscar Grant's uncle, said he doesn't think the civilian review proposal provides enough voice to citizens to oversee police.

"You may be acting in good faith to bring about some civilian oversight board, ... but as I see it and the community sees it, it has no teeth."


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Johnson said BART should come up with a proposal closer to the model in San Francisco, where a police review commission has a say over discipline of officers for serious offenses.

Nation of Islam Minister Keith Muhammad said the proposed citizens advisory committee should have some power to select and monitor the police auditor.

If the auditor can lose his paying job for being too outspoken, Muhammad said, "then the question becomes: Who does the auditor work for? The BART system or to protect citizens?"

According to the BART proposal, the independent police auditor would report directly to the board, while BART Police Chief Gary Gee would continue to report to BART General Manager Dororthy Dugger, who is hired by the transit board.

The auditor would conduct investigations of all citizen allegations of excessive police force, hate crimes, racial profiling and racially abusive treatment.

About 12 to 20 people a year file complaints about BART police force, which has about 200 sworn officers, according to Reginald Lyles, a consultant to the BART Board public safety committee.

Two members of the BART board — Tom Radulovich and Lynette Sweet, both of San Francisco — agreed the civilian review proposal is too weak, and said they would try to bring about a stronger model.

"With both the advisory committee and the auditor, the police chief can say, 'Thank you for sharing this with me,' and then not do anything," Radulovich said.

Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267 or dcuff@bayareanewsgroup.com