Lethal force - Page 5

The BART Police Department operates without oversight or accountability - but with plenty of attack dogs and 12-gauge shotguns
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"I was in the hospital room when the nurse was washing down the body. I know what an entrance wound looks like, and my son was shot in the back."

In Modern Police Firearms, a textbook on law-enforcement procedures, Professor Allen P. Bristow of California State University, Los Angeles, writes that deadly force should be used to stop a fleeing felon only when "he cannot be contained or captured" through other means. Further, Bristow notes, an officer considering deadly force should ask the following question:

"Is the crime this suspect is committing, or are the consequences of his possible escape, serious enough to justify my taking his life or endangering the lives of bystanders?"

The San Francisco Police Department guidelines on deadly force embody some of that same philosophy. "Officers shall exhaust all other reasonable means of apprehension and control before resorting to the use of firearms," the Aug. 24, 1984, policy states. Officers are allowed to shoot at a dangerous, fleeing felony suspect "only after all other reasonable means of apprehension and control have been exhausted."

San Francisco, like almost every other police agency in the Bay Area, and most in the country, strictly prohibits warning shots. So does BART: "Discharging of firearms [is] not allowable as a warning," BART's official weapons policy states.

The BART police are a bit more lenient than San Francisco on the use of deadly force to stop fleeing suspects. The officer must only believe that "the suspect is likely to continue to threaten death or serious bodily harm to another human being," according to BART's July 22, 1987, operational directive. Yet the directive also states that a firearm may not be used "when the officer has reason to believe ... that the discharge may endanger the lives of passersby, or other persons not involved in the crime, and the officer's life, or that of another person, is not in imminent danger."

THE OPEN RANGE

Armed guards have patrolled BART trains and stations since the agency started running trains about 30 years ago. At first, they were simply known as "BART Security"; the officers had the authority to carry weapons and arrest suspects, but under state law, they weren't members of a real police department. For the most part, that limited their authority to the confines of BART property.

In 1976, the state Legislature granted BART the authority to run a police department with jurisdiction and authority second only to the California Highway Patrol. BART officers now have full police powers, not only on their own turf, but in every one of the 58 California counties.

The department, headquartered near the Lake Merritt BART station, currently employs 151 sworn officers and nine dogs (see sidebar Page TK). An undisclosed number work undercover, in plain clothes, riding the trains and looking for crimes that range from fare evasion, "eating," and "expectoration," to assault, robbery, and rape. By far the most common crime, according to a BART police statistical breakdown for 1992, is "vagrancy": 4,227 separate instances were reported by BART officers in the first 10 months of the year.

The BART Police Department has a $12 million annual budget, a fleet of patrol cars, and its own communications system. Officers earn salaries that Chief Taylor calls "competitive" with other departments in the Bay Area.

And at a time when California law-enforcement agencies are coming under increasingly strict civilian control, the BART police operate with nothing more than token oversight.

Chief Taylor reports to no commission, mayor, or city council. The department is administered by BART's assistant general manager for public safety, who reports to the general manager, who reports to the board.