Swanson's Office Denies Charges of 'Watering Down' BART Police Oversight Bill

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday August 28, 2009 - 05:50:00 PM

The attempt to pass state legislation authorizing a civilian oversight of the BART Police Department—which had already featured a political disagreement between BART Board member Lynette Sweet and Assembly Public Safety Committee Chair Tom Ammiano—took another turn this week when Oakland Assemblymember Sandré Swanson came under criticism for "watering down" provisions in the proposed BART police oversight bill at the request of police lobbyists. 

Swanson's office denied making any changes to the proposed legislation and said that the provision change in question was given to the Oakland legislator by BART Board officials, who told him that the legislation had been agreed to by all parties promoting the BART police review legislation. 

The various controversies are coming with less than two weeks left for the Legislature to move forward with a bill to authorize BART civilian police oversight this year. 

As reported in the Daily Planet this week, Ammiano and members of the BART Board's Police Department Review Committee had disagreed over whether to move forward with the BART police review bill authored by Ammiano or one agreed to unanimously this month by the BART Board. BART is moving forward with implementing citizen review of its police department in the wake of the controversy surrounding the shooting death of 21-year-old Oscar Grant last January by a since-retired BART police officer. State legislation is needed to implement any changes in BART's police review policies. 

On Thursday, the San Francisco Chronicle's City Insider column reported that Swanson had agreed to carry the BART legislation at the request of "BART officials," but said that the Oakland legislator had "stripped out the provision that would have given the BART Board a role in police discipline cases" at the request of "the Peace Officers Research Association of California, a powerful lobbying force in Sacramento" which the Chronicle said had indicated "it would oppose any attempts to give elected officials the ability to discipline officers." The Chronicle item added that "members of the BART Board said Thursday they're not happy with the change." 

But during a Friday telephone interview, Swanson Chief of Staff Larry Broussard said that the Chronicle account was not true. 

Broussard said that Swanson met with BART board members earlier this week and agreed to carry legislation authorizing BART police civilian oversight after being assured that the legislation "had the support of law enforcement officials, the BART Board, and the community." Broussard said that the language for the proposed legislation was forwarded to Swanson's office by the BART Board members, and that Swanson made no changes to the provisions. 

Broussard said that after Swanson received the proposed language, the Oakland assemblymember learned that a provision had been taken out of the original language before it had been sent to him. That stricken language, according to Broussard, authorized the BART Board to recommend "appropriate discipline" against a BART police officer in cases of police misconduct. 

Broussard would not give the names of the BART Board members who met with Swanson this week. 

Swanson's Chief of Staff said that Swanson was still willing to work with BART officials, community residents, and law enforcement officials towards the passage of a bill this year for BART police oversight, adding that the legislator would also work with Public Safety Chair Ammiano "with whom," Broussard said, Swanson "has a close working relationship." But Broussard added that all of the parties promoting an oversight bill had to "put aside their differences" and come up with one proposal if any bill had a chance for passage "this late in the legislative season." 

East Bay community leaders were reported to be holding several meetings this week with BART officials and legislative leaders in a furious lobbying effort to break the impasse.