OAKLAND -- Outside law enforcement experts are giving BART police high marks for changes the transit agency has made since one of its officers fatally shot a man at an Oakland station on New Year's Day 2009.
Led by Patrick Oliver, a retired police chief and the director of the Cedarville (Ohio) University Criminal Justice Department, the performance audit team cited what Oliver called substantial progress in 10 key areas.
Among the examples Oliver cited were BART's new police-auditing program, citizen advisory panel, revamped hiring procedures and strict internal use-of-force policies.
In contrast to past public hearings where protesters railed against BART police, the audit release at the agency's elected board meeting Thursday was uneventful, and no one from the general public spoke.
BART's Police Department is "clearly moving toward a place where it is part of the community, where the community accepts and supports its authority," said BART board Vice President Joel Keller, of Antioch.
BART police Chief Kenton Rainey, who was not running the department at the time of the shooting, cautiously acknowledged the praise.
"We've made great progress, but we still have a great deal of work to do," Rainey said.
The audit is the second outside analysis of the transit agency's police force commissioned after former BART Officer Johannes Mehserle, who is white, fatally shot 22-year-old Oscar Grant III, who is black, during a fracas at the Fruitvale station.
Mehserle said he mistakenly shot Grant when he drew his gun instead of a Taser.
The officer was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in a 2010 trial that was moved to Los Angeles because of the extensive publicity.
While BART police continue to make internal corrections, a federal jury may re-examine the fatal shooting, a federal appeals court recently ruled.
In a unanimous three-judge decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected attempts by the BART officers, including Mehserle, to shield themselves from the legal claims by asserting police immunity.
The 9th Circuit decision allows the civil rights lawsuit to proceed to a trial.
"It is possible, after weighing all the facts, that the officers committed no constitutional wrongs," 9th Circuit Judge Mary Murguia wrote. "But our task at this stage ... is instead to construe the facts in the manner most favorable to the plaintiffs, who have a right to their day in court."
Grant's father and five of Grant's friends sued in the aftermath of the incident, highlighted in the movie "Fruitvale Station."
The complaint alleges that Mehserle should pay damages for Grant's death and that the three officers violated the civil rights of Grant's friends when they were arrested early on New Year's Day at the Fruitvale station.