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BART police are watching you

Surveillance cameras projected on video monitors inside the video recovery room at the BART Police headquarters in Oakland. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Ever walked by a BART surveillance camera while riding on a train and wondered who’s watching on the other end?

Or maybe you’ve seen someone hopping a fare gate and wondered if it was caught on camera.

During Tuesday night’s station tour with state Sen. Scott Wiener, the agency offered a sneak peek into its biggest crime-fighting tool: approximately 4,000 cameras feeding directly into BART Police headquarters in Oakland.

According to a poll commissioned by the Bay Area Council, a regional business group, 46% of BART riders said they witnessed a crime on the transit system, while 53% said they know someone who has been a victim of a crime.

The room, which has a wall covered top to bottom with monitors, is a nearly 24-hour operation that typically has a rotation of five community service officers and all of the detectives within the BART Police Department, according to Sgt. Jonathan Guerra.

BART Police detectives explain the agency's surveillance system at its headquarters in Oakland on Tuesday. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

The video feeds—which can be live or recorded—have been instrumental in helping detectives close cases quickly, Guerra said.

Recently, detectives used the feeds to locate and arrest a suspect in a shooting outside Lake Merritt Station.

“Within about an hour, we were able to get his description, get it out to our patrol units, and in nine minutes, our officers got him several miles from here,” he said. “The video is very important for our detectives in order to get these cases solved rapidly.”

According to BART Police Detective Jefferson Dominguez, the video evidence collected from incidents provides prosecutors with credible evidence.

“It’s really hard to beat video,” Dominguez said. “You’re out there in court having to testify, and you have a video which shows a suspect committing a crime. It’s very difficult to beat that.”

Although the videos don’t stop a crime from happening, Detective David Jones said, they allow officers to get to the incident more quickly.

“We’re able to get officers there, break up a crime if possible and then arrest somebody that committed that crime. It works in our benefit,” Jones said. “We can look quickly at the video, describe the person and get officers—because we have officers at every station—there.”

There is also a distinction between cameras in stations and those on the trains, according to BART spokesperson Alicia Trost.

“The train cameras record only, but as we bring WiFi on the BART—which is a project—what we are going to do is, as it passes through certain areas in the system, we will be able to rapidly download it,” she said. “Right now, we have crews that are dedicated to pulling the train car video footage.”

BART Acting Police Chief Kevin Franklin monitors video feeds at the agency's headquarters. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Currently, Dominguez said, the quality of the footage from the older trains is not as good as the new trains and can often be grainy or lack definition.

“The lack of quality happens at certain times of the day,” he said.

BART, however, plans to update its entire fleet with the newer trains next month, which will allow for more high-definition footage for authorities to use during investigations.