The BART board of directors held a meeting Thursday, Dec. 1 and voted unanimously for a new policy for riders that would allow cell phone service to be shut down under extreme circumstances.
The BART press release states that cell phone service could be temporarily interrupted, but only when BART “determines that there is strong evidence of imminent unlawful activity that threatens the safety of district passengers, employees and other members of the public.”
The first instance of BART shutting down cell phone services came in the wake of the July 11 protests over two BART officers who killed Charles Hill, a 45-year-old homeless man who allegedly threatened the police with two knives.
“Protesters came in because they thought it was police brutality,” said Jim Allison, BART spokesman. “They climbed on trains, held train doors open and ultimately it led to a shutdown of the station. One month later on August 11, we learned of planned protest in which they were going to use their cell phones to text each other locations of the police. We shut down cell service and the protest was averted.”
The newly adopted cell phone policy references First Amendment rights numerous times and states that exercising those rights are a high priority and a long-standing policy. Some large concerns by the public are that if cell phone service is shut off during an emergency, riders wouldn’t be able to use their phones to call for help.
“That is a concern so it’s a balancing act,” Allison said. “The need for people to contact emergency personal and the need to prevent something bad from happening. It’s a case-by-case basis and we hope we never have to deal with it again, but at least we have a policy in place.”
Some say the policy is insignificant because cell service is hard to come by in the BART stations anyway.
“When you are down in the underground you don’t get service anyway so it doesn’t matter,” said apparel design major Carly Chernick. “BART can do what they want with their own stations.”
Bob Franklin, president of BART board of directors, understands pros and cons of being able to cut service.
“We have enacted this policy in case of emergencies,” Franklin said. “If the threat is greater than the risk of turning off service, then we will do it. It’s unlikely something like this will ever happen again, but if people are going to be seriously hurt it’s a tool available to the BART organization.