IN THE WAKE of the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant III on Jan. 1 and the protests it ignited, BART has come up with a draft of a civilian oversight plan to handle complaints about transit police.
A civilian oversight board is an overdue and a welcome move forward. But the initial draft has a long way to go before it can be considered a viable check on BART police.
Grant, who was lying on the ground in an Oakland BART station, was shot in the back by former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle, who resigned after the shooting and is now charged with murder.
The shooting set off demonstrations against Mehserle and BART. Many questioned BART's initial response to the shooting and raised questions about BART's hiring policies and dealings with the public.
BART has responded with a plan for a civilian review board headed by an auditor. However, so far it does not appear to be effective because it lacks any real power.
The auditor would investigate shootings by BART officers and complaints from the public, and report directly to the BART board. BART Police Chief Gary Gee would continue to report to BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger, who is hired by the board.
However, one has to wonder just how independent the auditor would be. He or she would not have the authority to determine or overturn disciplinary decisions made by BART's police chief.
BART's oversight proposal also includes a citizens advisory board, which would get reports from the auditor regarding complaints about transit officers. The panel then would make recommendations about police discipline, training, policies and public relations.
But, like the auditor, the advisory board could be overruled by the BART police chief. While the auditor and advisory board would at least have a public platform, they would not have the authority to set any policies.
A better model is needed.
BART should consider putting together a review board similar to what San Francisco has with its police review commission. It has a say over discipline of officers for serious offenses.
At the very least, a BART auditor and review panel should have a strong voice in developing hiring and training policies for BART officers. They also should be trusted to do more than simply offer their opinions regarding discipline of transit officers.
BART police should welcome a strong civilian review board, which could increase public confidence in the transit officers and improve the public's perception of the transit system's security.
Transit board members Tom Radulovich and Lynette Sweet, both of San Francisco, have called for a stronger civilian review plan. They should be heeded.
If BART wants to improve the public's view of its police officers and transit management, the board should make sure it has a review system that is effective, credible and has broad public support.