Lethal force - Page 7

The BART Police Department operates without oversight or accountability - but with plenty of attack dogs and 12-gauge shotguns
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He could have called the reporters who were covering the story and let them know, or issued a new press release with updated information.

He could have tried to rescue some of what was left of the dead 19 year old's personal reputation - and salvaged a bit of his own in the process. Instead, he fell back on the old BART strategy: When in doubt, stonewall. Then duck for cover, and hope it will all go away.

The BART Police Department may be the least-responsive law-enforcement agency I've seen since the discovery of the shredding machine in the White House basement. There is no press officer. The watch commanders, lieutenants, and captains refer all press calls to Chief Harold Taylor, who won't come to the phone; his secretary refers the calls to the BART Public Affairs Office.

When I first called Healy Nov. 16 to ask about the shooting, he told me he hadn't seen a police report, and didn't know if one existed. He also said he didn't know what the citizen complaint procedure was for the BART police, and had no idea if it was in writing. I filed a formal request for those and other records Nov. 17; under the Public Records Act, I had a legal right to a response within 10 days.

I let it slide to 15 days (holidays and all), then started calling Healy's office. He was too busy to come to the phone at first, but after I harassed him for several hours, he told me that Chief Harold Taylor was handling my request, and that I should call him directly. Taylor wouldn't come to the phone at all: He had an assistant tell me that Public Affairs was handling the request, and that I should call Mike Healy.

I spent another day trying again to reach Healy, who finally told me he wanted to set up an interview with Taylor - for Dec. 4, 17 days after I'd sent in a request for information most police agencies would probably have provided in less than an hour.

Chief Taylor showed up for the interview with a BART lawyer, who promised that the chief would fax me a statement of the facts of the shooting sometime later that afternoon. The brief, incomplete statement finally arrived three days later, around 3:30 p.m. Dec. 7, 21 days after my initial request. And BART officials still won't release the full police report.

If I were a suspicious reporter, I'd wonder what they were trying to hide.

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Deputy dog

In Philadelphia, the Inquirer revealed several years ago, police dogs attacked 358 people in the course of 33 months, leaving many of them scarred or maimed for life. In Los Angeles, the Times recently reported, the local K-9 Corps recorded more than a thousand bites in three years. In Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, trained German shepherds tore into a total of 375 legs, arms, and torsos in the course of their law-enforcement work.

In the past 10 years, canine corps scandals have tarnished the reputations of police departments all over the country and have cost taxpayers millions of dollars in lawsuits.

In Berkeley, however, police dogs have been banned since the early 1970s, when a City Council member named Ron Dellums responded to the brutal use of dogs against blacks in the South with a resolution abolishing the local canine corps. In San Francisco, dogs handle only a few very limited tasks.

But since 1990, the BART Police Canine Corps has been expanding into the sort of work that created such extensive problems in other American cities - a use for dogs that critics say has little justification.

"There are two basic rationales for using police dogs," explained Richard Avenzino, director of the San Francisco SPCA, whose agency has worked with the local Police Department canine program. "One is for sniffing out explosives or narcotics.