Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Regulating Public Space: Excluding BART Offenders from Trains

Photo credit Rhett Aultman.
The picture on the left is of a public ad found in many BART cars recently. The text reads:

A new state law allows BART to prohibit individuals who have committed violent acts, certain misdemeanors or felonies on the system from entering BART property.

The state law references is Assembly Bill 716. The BART website elaborates:

Assembly Bill 716 allows BART to issue a “prohibition order” against anyone who commits certain offenses on BART property, banning them for 30 days to a year, depending on the offense. For infractions such as defacing property or urinating in public, a person must be cited on at least three separate occasions within a period of 90 days to receive a prohibition order. For more serious crimes such as violence against passengers or employees, the ban can take effect after the first instance.

There is a committee that decides on issuing the prohibition orders. And, there are apparently mechanisms in place to curb misuse of this law:

The new law also contains extensive safeguards to address concerns that the authority it grants could be misused. Anyone receiving a prohibition order can request an administrative hearing, the law states. The hearing officer can overturn the order if he or she determines the person “did not understand the nature and extent of his or her actions or did not have the ability to control his or her actions.” 

If the cited person is dependent upon transit for “trips of necessity,” including travel to or from medical or legal appointments, school, work, or to obtain food and clothing, the order must be modified to allow for those trips. If the person is not satisfied with the hearing officer’s decision he or she may seek judicial review.

The new law raises a lot of interesting considerations regarding the regulation of public space. BART property is the property of a governmental agency, and this exclusion is not unlike the exclusion of, say, sex offenders from public fairs and events. While it is important to keep in mind that there's a thematic connection between the conduct and the sanction - the violation has to be related to BART - it does beg the question how are said individuals to be identified and apprehended in busy stations without recurring to profiling methods that are banned by the BART police manual. It also brings up sad and angry memories from the Oscar Grant killing on New Year's Eve of 2009; Grant and his friends were arrested after a brawl on BART.

Excluding offenders from public space, especially mobility, also has important class implications. I'm happy to see that the law allows for modifying the order to accommodate "necessary trips", but verifying whether a given trip is "necessary" or not is a complicated matter and does not eliminate hassle and suspicion in the first place. It also means that folks who may not be able to afford alternative means of transportation to "non-necessary" destinations are now curbed from reaching these destinations.

We'll have to wait and see how "prohibition orders" are issued and executed. Email us if you experience anything related to this law on BART.

Props to Richard Boswell and to Rhett Aultman.


Sarah Fielding said...

I also think it's interesting how the necessary trip exception interacts with the intent of the ban. How does my final destination affect my behavior on BART? In reality, it probably doesn't (although maybe I'm less likely to be heading to the doctor's office late at night). I think it's interesting that they thought to put in these exceptions. It makes the policy seem more palatable. I wonder where getting to work or a job interview would fit in to the necessity exception.

Also, just thinking of the insanity of enforcing this--if I'm taking a necessary trip, am I going to have to show documentation to let them let me enter the system? Am I going to be cited and then have to fight it in a hearing process? Considering how few station agents there aer and the sheer number of BART passengers how are they even going ot know I've been "system banned."

So many thoughts!

Hadar Aviram said...

I agree. The devil is going to be in the enforcement details, Sarah.