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Escorts help with safety

By Chason Weinwright Daily Planet Staff
Friday November 10, 2000



On a dark night in 1993, a San Francisco Chronicle photographer headed to her car in the dimly lit streets surrounding the North Berkeley BART station, when she was brutally beaten with a piece of wood. 

City Councilmember Linda Maio, in whose district the North Berkeley BART station lies, says the event, along with other muggings around the same time, moved her to ask the council to approve an escort program for the station.  

Ove Wittstock, Executive Director of the Berkeley Boosters Association, a non-profit community service organization which works with youth, got the call to put an escort program into action. He said with the help of BART funding, which provided uniforms and police radios, and funding from the city, the BART Safety Escorts program got started Nov. 1, 1993. The program was so successful that an identical program was started at the Ashby BART station the next year.  

The program currently employs 12 escorts, seven of whom are high school students. Escorts provide their services during the winter, weekday rush hours, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wittstock said. On average, they provide 50-60 escorts a night at each station. Escorts, who work in pairs, are uniformed and carry police radios in case of emergency. 

Wittstock recalled that on several occasions the police radios have come in handy to catch criminals. The use of the radios by escorts were instrumental in the capture of a man who sexually assaulted a BART passenger and in the capture of another assailant who attacked a food vendor at the North Berkeley station. “While we are there, there is no purse snatching,” said Wittstock.  

Maio said she thinks that the BART station is an opportune place for criminal activity because people are vulnerable and the escorts’ presence there is a deterrent to would-be muggers. “When you come out of the BART station and you have to walk to your car alone in the dark, it gives you a sense of fear.”  

Maio said she has received nothing but positive feedback about the escorts and that people are delighted to have an alternative to walking alone. She said the response has been so great that the council put the program into the budget permanently.  

Wittstock said he receives between 50 and 100 thank you letters from people who use the escort service every year. “It would be great to have it all year round.” The program runs through the start of daylight savings time in March.