San Francisco Withholding Surveillance Videos Of Crime To Avoid ‘Stereotypes’

Jul
17

San Francisco Withholding Surveillance Videos Of Crime To Avoid ‘Stereotypes’

Within the last 90 days, there have been at least three robberies in San Francisco on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) involving groups of teenagers.

“I think people are genuinely concerned — they are fearful about the stories that have come out about the recent attacks, the assaults, the thefts,” said Debora Allen, who is a member of the BART Board of Directors.

April 22: Forty to sixty kids boarded a train at the Coliseum stop and robbed seven passengers, beating up two.

June 28: A group of four kids assaulted a passenger and made off with a cell phone at Dublin.

June 30: A woman on a train with about a dozen teenagers had her phone snatched by one them before the group got off at the Coliseum stop. Thankfully, a good Samaritan was on hand to retrieve the phone.

BART has refused to turn over surveillance videos of the incidents in fear of creating a “racial bias”

Allen told the local CBS affiliate in San Francisco that the agency issued an explanation for why it is being tight-lipped about the thefts.

“To release these videos would create a high level of racially insensitive commentary toward the district,” she was told. “And in addition it would create a racial bias in the riders against minorities on the trains.”

According to a memo, which was distributed to BART Directors, the agency refuses to do a press release on theft that occurred on June 30th because it was a “petty crime” that would make BART look “crime ridden.” Furthermore, it would “unfairly affect and characterize riders of color, leading to sweeping generalizations in media reports.”

The memo was from BART Assistant General Manager Kerry Hamill.

Allen sent an email to Hamill saying, “I don’t understand what role the color of one’s skin plays in this issue [of whether to divulge information]. Can you explain?” Hamill responded, “If we were to regularly feed the news media video of crimes on our system that involve minority suspects, particularly when they are minors, we would certainly face questions as to why we were sensationalizing relatively minor crimes and perpetuating false stereotypes in the process.” And added her opinion of the media: “My view is that the media’s real interest in the videos of youth phone snatching incidents isn’t the desire for transparency but rather the pursuit of ratings. They know that video of these events will drive clicks to their websites and viewers to their programs because people are motivated by fear.”

Allen says scared passengers aren’t being unreasonable — being on a BART train is a vulnerable position.

“This is BART, people are sort of trapped in this train for awhile and they have a right to see what could potentially happen.”

She says all this raises questions, “What is the priority of BART? Is the safety of the passenger — of all passengers — is that a lesser priority than the race bias issue?”

BART spokesman Taylor Huckaby defended her company’s actions by referencing a state law which protects “juvenile police records.” This prevents them from showing the surveillance video, even though at least one of the people arrested for the April 22 attack is 19 years old (He cited Cal. Gov’t Code 827.9). Even if the faces of juveniles were blurred, Huckaby says watching the videos would be pointless gawking.

 

Full BART Memo:

TO: Board of Directors DATE: July 7, 2017

FROM: Kerry Hamill

AGM Office of External Affairs

SUBJECT: Providing public access to crime data via CrimeMapping.com

The BART Police Department is now sharing reports of crimes with the website CrimeMapping.com. The site processes crime data with its advanced mapping engine to show where a crime has occurred within the BART system. The decision to provide crime data to CrimeMapping.com was made by BART Police Chief Carlos Rojas as part of an effort to increase public transparency as well as to bolster community oriented policing efforts. This decision was shared with Board members and with the media in early June, 2017.

Crime data from BART is being fed to CrimeMapping.com from our Records Management System. This new technology has increased the efficiency, accuracy and transparency of our crime reporting. BART is following the lead of several large police departments in the Bay Area that already provide their crime data to CrimeMapping.com. That list includes police departments in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Hayward, Richmond, and Berkeley. The website is used by law enforcement agencies across the country to provide localized and updated crime data to constituents to raise awareness and encourage prevention.

Previously, crime logs (in narrative form) had been manually entered and emailed to a small group of approximately 300 readers and local media. The data now is available to all members of the public, freely, on the internet. Recent reports have criticized this move as a step away from transparency. All of our crimes are still being reported, simply not in the way reporters previously received them. Many reporters remain unfamiliar with the interface.Furthermore, it is important to note that much of the criticism leveled at BART from local media on this topic was generated for the benefit of media themselves. Reporters (based on the recent phone snatching at Coliseum) repeatedly questioned why the District did not issue a press release (or would not be issuing a press release in the future) on the topic of petty crimes.

The Media Department has criteria for whether to issue a press release, and this incident did not meet them. The robbery was thwarted by the victim’s fellow riders, then the assailants were all detained and identified thanks to a bolstered police presence at Coliseum station. No property was taken, and no injuries required medical attention.

There is no benefit to riders, criminal procedure, BART police investigations, or the District generally to elevate such an incident with a press release. To do so would be grossly out of step with other transit jurisdictions and municipal governments, and would paint an inaccurate picture of the BART system as crime-ridden when incidents of crime on transit, including BART, are fewer than in the surrounding communities. The new mapping tool presents crime in a context of what is occurring outside our stations—in the days following the recent attempted robbery, there were over 118 assaults and 33 robberies in the immediate area. All of these incidents were ignored by local media.

Furthermore, disproportionate elevation of crimes on transit interfaces with local media in such a way to unfairly affect and characterize riders of color, leading to sweeping generalizations in media reports and a high level of racially insensitive commentary directed toward the District through our social media channels, email, and call centers. The BART Police Department has a hard copy of all the data provided to CrimeMapping.com. It is available to the public at its Lake Merritt Station headquarters. Many police agencies, according to the Police Chief, provide written versions of their police logs for public review at their offices as standard practice.

Users can access the information by going to the CrimeMapping.com website and entering a station name in the search box. The information about specific crimes at that station will be displayed on a map along with crimes that have occurred in the surrounding neighborhood if that local jurisdiction participates in the CrimeMapping system. Users can look up the time and type of crime that occurred, and organize the map by agency, e.g., if you only want to see crimes that occurred on BART, you can turn off icons for crimes that occurred under other departments’ jurisdictions. CrimeMapping.com stores the data for up to 180 days.

The site can also display crime data in charts and graphs, illustrating whether there has been a recent spike or decline in criminal activity. TriTech Software Systems, the parent company behind crimemapping.com, is one of the largest vendors for tier one public safety software systems in the nation. As part of our Regional Anti-Terrorism Law Enforcement Systems (RAILS) project, we have implanted the entire TriTech Software Systems Inform suite, which includes: computer-aided dispatch, in-car mobile software, web-based records management system, IQ analytics, and crime analytics software (known as CrimeView). This has allowed us to capture and analyze data to help determine how to best deploy our resources in the field.

BART data has been live on the CrimeMapping.com site since early June. The Office of External Affairs continues to respond well within 24 hours to media inquiries requesting detail or commentary on any crime reported on the website, and continues to work with the BART Police Department to develop best practices for reporting on crime.

If you have any further questions, please contact me at 510 464-6153 or Chief Carlos Rojas at 510 464-7022.

Kerry Hamill

Assistant General Manager

Office of External Affairs

 

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