Former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle shot Oscar Grant on a BART train platform in Oakland early New Year's Day in 2009. Mehserle testified that fearing Grant may have a weapon, he said he was going to shock Grant with his Taser but pulled out his handgun and shot Grant in the back.
In July of 2010, the jury found Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter, which rose tensions in Oakland where rioting ensued.
In July of this year, a confrontation occurred between two BART police officers and Charles Hill, a homeless man. Calls had been received about an apparently drunk man at the station and Hill was apparently armed with two knives and a bottle when one of the officers shot and killed him.
Crunican stresses, "One of the things I want to make sure is that we are giving the officers a lot of training and enough training."
BART Chief of Police Kenton Rainey came to the organization in June of 2010, around the time they were starting the trial process for Mehserle.
Coming in to a tough situation, Chief Rainey sought this position out, he says. "It was something I wanted to do. Using public transportation growing up on the south side of Chicago, my family, we didn't own a car, so we got around through mass transit.
"I understand it and I believe in it. I really believe in the product."
He knew it would be a huge challenge and he says, "I thought I have the necessary skills to lead the organization back and forward as far as what the board was looking for, for a change and to bring accountability into this organization." He adds, "Those are the types of things I've been known for throughout my career."
He explains every law enforcement officer in the state of California has to have at least 24 hours of Continuing Professional Training every two years. In the wake of the Oscar Grant incident, the district has appropriated enough money for its officers to receive 40 hours of training every year. "So they're taking this very, very seriously and really stepped up and appropriated the necessary funding."
What's been very important to Rainey is Crisis Intervention Training (CIT). He explains as they've done research, just within the county, of the law enforcement officers killed in the last 10 years, they had been killed by somebody suffering from a mental illness. And 70 percent of officer-involved shootings through out the county involved somebody with a mental illness.
He says this really put the spotlight on that it's not just the mental illness; it's an officer safety issue. "So we made a conscious choice to train all our field officers in crisis intervention," he says. "And now we've expanded it to include regular line officers so by the end of October, we'll have an additional 20 officers trained, so that's 44 officers trained.
"A lot of people don't understand," he says, "it's not like a traditional class where you have one instructor come in. You're trying to coordinate schedules of mental health professionals, people affiliated with the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill (NAMI), doctors, other practitioners and they get people who have suffered from mental illness but are on medications to explain what it's like – this is what I experience when I'm not on my meds and when I am on my meds."
Of the CIT Rainey says, "It's very intensive coursework to really give an officer a better perspective when they go in to these situations." He adds, "The more tools we can put in our personnel's took kit when they go out there, the individual that we're trying to get help for, the better off for our personnel."
The latest controversy came when BART shut off cell service in some of its stations to prevent protests and to maintain safety, which then created free speech controversy and BART was consequently compared to oppressive governments and Middle East dictators.
Crunican says there is a program to get a new cell phone policy in place. "The approach in the future is if it's an extreme situation, like a bombing or a terrorist threat, then that should be an option. And, I suppose if the demonstration were in the very extreme nature and qualified as a threat, we would be considering it." Working with the ACLU, they put together a draft policy and they are moving ahead.
Planning for Change