August, 18 2017

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Councilwoman proposes using at-risk teens as BART safety escorts

An Oakland City Councilwoman today proposed that the city employ at-risk youth as safety escorts in and around BART stations.

Following a spate of robberies in her North Oakland district, Councilwoman Jane Brunner said she came up with the idea of the Oakland Ambassadors program as a way of improving public safety in a city where criminals are taking advantage of an officer shortage.

"We need it for two reasons," Brunner said. "It will help people getting off BART in our city feel welcome to Oakland. We're having serious issues at eight in the morning, but particularly at night ... All people using BART ... need to feel safe."

She said she developed the plan, presented today at a council committee, in consultation with a downtown merchants group and several youth organizations.

The ambassadors would work in 5-member teams at each BART station in Oakland from dusk until 8 p.m., helping commuters to their cars, accompanying people to restaurants or guiding elderly residents making their way home.

Brunner said the program would also give young Oakland residents an opportunity to improve safety and the environment around BART stations in their city.

They would also be assigned to pick up litter, greet merchants and give directions to people in and around the stations.

Sean Sullivan, director of development and community relations for Covenant House, an Oakland youth shelter and employment program, said young people would be more than safety escorts.

"It's about how we keep more eyes on the street and employ young people to be leaders in their community," Sullivan said. "It also builds up a fractured fabric and presents an opportunity for different generations to connect."

The program would employ youth from Covenant House, Youth Employment Partnership and Youth Uprising and provide prospective ambassadors with customer-service and safety training -- the latter of which is crucial if the program is to be a success, Deputy Police Chief Howard Jordan said.

"We look at this as another step in our community policing efforts," Jordan said. "My only concern is that the ambassadors have the training they need and that they're equipped to communicate with BART police or Oakland police should the need arise."

While Brunner said she hasn't determined the annual cost of the program, she is proposing using redevelopment funds and contributions from businesses.

The part-time positions would pay $10.39 an hour with benefits and $11.95 an hour without benefits.

BART spokesman Linton Johnson said his agency would support such an effort if the city is willing to find a way to cover the cost.

Phil Tagami, a local businessman who worked with Brunner to develop the concept, said crime is a deterrent to people shopping in Oakland and the ambassador program would be a good way to not only help youth but keep businesses in town.

The council's community and economic development committee heard a report about the program today; however, the committee lacked a quorum and so members could not vote on it. The council's rules committee will consider the matter Thursday. Brunner said she is confident the rules committee will send the proposal to the full council for its consideration on June 5.

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