The BART Police Department, which came under intense criticism after the shooting deaths of Oscar Grant and Charles Hill, is laying out a new strategy it says will lead to better policing.

The new plan calls for BART officers and lieutenants to be assigned to smaller geographical areas. Oakland, for example, will constitute one zone, all to itself.

The idea is to help build up the concept of community policing, where an officer is already familiar with people coming and going in a particular station before being called into action.

Yesterday, KQED’s Joshua Johnson talked to Golden Gate University Law Professor and former San Francisco Police Commissioner Peter Keane about the plan.

Edited transcript:

Mr Keane, what kind of a difference is community policing likely to make in how BART operates?

What it does is it decentralizes oversight and the command of police units within a given area. It’s not just in one central area, the local areas are sort of off as colonies. With community policing, BART could help solve a lot of problems because it would have a smaller command structure in a local area; it would have a smaller span of control of the supervisors and they would be familiar with particular problems that occur in that area. And they’d be more on top of things in terms of supervision and command and control as events occur. The police officers on the ground would not be as isolated and they would have access to supervisory aid and assistance and advice, which for BART is something that is very much needed.

How far would this have gone toward preventing the the Oscar Grant shooting in 2009 or the shooting of Charles Hill at the Civic Center BART station last year?

Those shootings could well have been prevented had something like the community policing structure been in place. There you had the particular line officers involved over a fairly long period of time with something that would have been helped a great deal if they had some sort of advice and assistance and supervision and command oversight.

BART has said this is not the final solution for improving policing, this is part of a larger strategy to make BART police better.

Well BART’s problems are endemic. This community policing situation is one small step toward addressing them, but the major things that have to be addressed are training and professionalism.

Everything that we’ve seen in the past regarding tragedies that have occurred, you can trace it to an absence or a total lack of training. Or deficiencies in training. Until those things are addressed, community policing will make a difference, but it’s by no means going to solve the major problems we’ve seen.

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