Plaza regulars today spotted a new portable BART police observation post at 24th Street station. A spokesperson for BART Police confirmed the approximately 20-foot-tall structure went up this morning.
The BART Police Department said the tower is one of two sometimes deployed by the transit agency, which “provide a highly visible deterrent against crime.” They couldn’t say when the tower would be taken down.
Plaza regulars are split on the new collapsible panopticon, which most viewed as a gesture of greater — or at least more visible — police presence in the plaza.
Xavier Hill and his mother, Danielle Robinson, are street vendors who come to the plaza most days to sell items. They’re put off by the tower, which they think is an attempt to prevent people like them from selling stuff on the street.
“They’re trying to stop my way of living,” Hill said. “I’m not trying to hurt nobody; I’m just trying to make my way like anyone else.”
“It’s a scare tactic,” Robinson said. She’s concerned about the cameras on the outside of the tower, but is convinced there’s no officer inside.
The observation tower’s tinted windows prevent someone at ground level from seeing inside. BART police have not responded as to whether an officer was actually present in the tower this afternoon. Other vendors, especially more established operators who sell their wares from tables, are more welcoming of the tower and its potential for a greater police presence in the plaza.
“Maybe it’s better for everybody working,” Marisol Bellagas said. She runs a coffee table on the southeast plaza Monday through Friday. She thinks that working folks like her will appreciate protection from the police. “There’s crazy people,” she said.
She said that the tower was there when she arrived this morning at 7 a.m.
The commerce at the plaza runs the gamut from city-permitted to black-market. In the past few years, it’s been the setting for multiple violent crimes, including a non-fatal stabbing earlier this month and a fatal stabbing in July, which was the third killing at the intersection of 24th and Mission streets this year.
This summer, the Department of Public Works has attempted to contain the plaza with temporary fences that push activity to the sidewalk. Teams of yellow-vested Public Works employees can be spotted at the plaza daily.
Passersby had mixed reactions to the new tower. “It don’t bother me,” said Edward Silas, who lives by Civic Center but takes the bus here often. “If you ain’t doing nothing wrong, you got nothing to worry about.” He also doesn’t think anybody’s really in there watching. “It’s a decoy,” he said.
But most everyone who spoke to Mission Local today shared one thought:
If there really is anyone in there … how’re they supposed to get down?
Update: As of 6:30 p.m. on Monday, the watchtower was gone from the plaza.