-By Bay City News
BART officials Monday night will hold the first in a series of three hearings on the implementation of new law that allows the transit agency to temporarily ban people who attack station agents or commit other offenses.
BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said the impetus for the law came at a board meeting two years ago when station agents told directors that there had been an increase in violence, threats and hostilities against them.
She said that in one case a man pushed his way into a booth with a station agent and beat her severely. California Assembly Bill 716, which took effect last year, allows BART to issue a "prohibition order" against anyone who commits certain offenses on the transit district's property, such as violence against employees or passengers, defacing property or urinating in public.
Offenders can be banned for 30 days to a year, depending on the offense. For minor infractions a person must be cited on at least three separate occasions within a period of 90 days to receive a prohibition order but for more serious crimes, such as violence against passengers or employees, the ban can take effect after the first offense.
BART plans to begin implementing the law in May, following in the footsteps of two other transit districts who already have implemented it: Sacramento Regional Transit District and Fresno Area Express.
Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, who authored the state legislation, said the law has been successful in Sacramento and Fresno. Dickinson said in a statement, "With this new authority to keep serious and repeat offenders out of the BART system, now the riders and employees of BART will have the same opportunity for safer public transportation."
BART officials said they previously could go to the district attorney's office of a particular county where an offense occurred and seek a "stay-away" order and that continues to be an option. But they said because BART operates in multiple counties and the fact that stay-away orders aren't always higher priorities for prosecutors the new law is expected to be a quicker and more efficient way to deal with the problem.
Trost said the law contains safeguards to address concerns that the authority it grants could be misused. She said anyone who gets a prohibition order can request an administrative hearing at which the hearing officer can overturn the order if 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."
Trost said BART officials want to emphasize that they don't plan to use the law to crack down on urinating by people who have special needs or are mentally ill or homeless but instead will focus on deliberate troublemakers.
BART officials will try to guide mentally ill or homeless people to public services, she said. Trost said the purpose of the public hearings is to get input from the public at large as well as mental health experts.
Monday's hearing will begin at 6 p.m. at the BART Board Room on the third floor of the Kaiser Center at 344 20th St. in Oakland.
The second hearing will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the San Francisco Department of Health office at 101 Grove St. in San Francisco.
The final hearing will be at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 28 at El Cerrito City Hall at 10890 San Pablo Ave. in El Cerrito.
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