Riders on BART now have a new, discreet way to handle other passengers who may give the impression that trouble is brewing.
It doesn't even require speaking.
A new phone app called "BART Watch" launched Thursday and allows passengers to contact BART police with just a tap of their fingers. The app is available free for anyone with an Apple iOS or Android device.
"Rather than call police, now you can text them," BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said.
By clicking the app, the user receives a screen that gives two options. Riders can call police directly, or they can be provided a menu of crimes that the rider can choose to report.
It also lets the user take pictures without a flash. Those pictures can be attached to the texts sent via the app, Trost said.
"It's a really quick, discreet way to be able to report what you're seeing," Trost said. "What riders have told us is that they've wanted a way to report incidents without drawing attention to themselves, and this allows them to do that pretty easily."
Trost said many complaints from riders concern individuals who panhandle or pitch other services on board. That activity, she said, is illegal. Other heavy-volume calls, such as those concerning homeless people sleeping on the cars, come in for activities that are not illegal.
So will dispatchers be overwhelmed by a new stream of outrageous calls?
"Dispatchers already get calls from riders regarding more things than you can imagine," Trost said. "It's too soon to see what may people may choose to use it for."
Police said the app, part of the "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign, may come in handy when a child goes missing. Messages sent on the app are prioritized given the nature of the crime or incident, police said.
It's also available in Spanish and Chinese.
The app creator is ELERTS, which has done similar apps for the transit systems in Santa Clara, Massachusetts and Atlanta.
Contact Rick Hurd at 925-945-4789, and follow him at Twitter.com/3rderh.