San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system has six vacancies for police officers but plans instead to fill those positions with social workers to handle issues involving the homeless and those with mental illness or drug addiction.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the public transit system has $2 million in its budget to fill the vacancies (for an average salary and benefits package worth about $333,000) but will instead hire a supervisor and “20 crisis intervention specialists,” the outlet reported. Last year, the board approved a plan that only added 10 specialists to BART’s bureau of progressive policing.
Unlike some other proposed police plans around the country, the BART plan would pair a social worker with an officer in case the call becomes violent.
“This bureau of progressive policing is super important in this time in our law enforcement history,” Deputy Police Chief Angela Averiett, head of the progressive policing bureau, told the Chronicle. “It really complements our officers to support them in the work that they’ve been doing. I have heard from a lot of people that homelessness never should have fallen on the shoulders of police officers, and I happen to agree with that. It’s a societal issue, but the reality is we are the ones dealing with it.”
Data from BART found that 39% of police calls in 2020 related to “wellbeing and medical assistance,” the largest percentage of calls for service. The second-highest category was fare issues, with 17% of the calls for service. Crime accounted for just 8% of the calls.
“The new plan was the result of engagement with the Police Department, union leadership, frontline workers, outside advisers and riders, the presentation to the board says. Survey results show 35% of these groups wanted only a civilian response to the issues of homelessness, mental illness and drug use, 27% only police and 17% a combination,” the Chronicle reported. “The debate is how the agency will pay for the plan. The total labor budget for the new bureau’s 45 positions is $8.1 million, with an additional $400,000 in ongoing training expenses and $560,000 to buy equipment.”
As The Daily Wire’s Hank Berrien reported in June, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Mayor Tim Keller, a Democrat, announced that social workers would respond to some 911 calls instead of police.
“We’ve placed more and more issues on the plates of officers who are not trained — despite their best efforts and despite some training — they’re not totally trained to be a social worker, or to be an addiction counselor, or to deal with things around child abuse when they’re just answering a call. We should have trained professionals do this, instead of folks with a gun and a badge,” Keller said at the time.
Members of the Los Angeles City Council also signed a motion suggesting unarmed social workers respond to certain 911 calls instead of police. In July, police in St. Petersburg, Florida, announced they would no longer send police officers to non-violent 911 calls, even though many calls begin as non-violent but can quickly turn.