LA Metro board postpones decision on a new, multi-agency police force on its bus and rail system
By Steve Scauzillo
December 1, 2016
LOS ANGELES >> After hearing conflicting pitches from three policing agencies, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority governing board Thursday could not reach consensus about whether to hire one or all three to patrol the county’s bus and rail lines.
Instead, the fractured board voted to postpone the decision until February. By a 7-4 vote, the board said it needed more time to sort out the ramifications of changing from an exclusive contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to a multi-agency system that adds officers from the Los Angeles and Long Beach police departments.
A majority of board members said the staff’s plan to add officers from other agencies left too many questions unanswered.
“How many more (officers) will be on the buses and trains? And where would they be coming from?,” asked board member and county Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who said LAPD relying on overtime to fill Metro slots may not produce the best results.
Sheriff Jim McDonnell and others said having three policing agencies instead of one may hamper response times. “One police agency is the proper way to go,” he told the board.
Accountability was also a concern.
“How are we going to ensure the officers assigned to our system don’t leave for an arrest that takes them away for six hours?” asked board member and Inglewood Mayor James Butts, a former police chief who led the board into questioning a proposal supported by Metro CEO Phil Washington and his staff.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said his agency routinely coordinates with the sheriff and that doing so on Metro calls for service would not be a problem. He called for “diversification of law enforcement on Metro.”
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also favored the new law enforcement plan, saying it would increase the number of patrols. “The number of dedicated officers are between 160 and 200 now. With the plan, we would go to 240 to 260 officers. That is clear,” he said.
Garcetti was at the losing end of the argument, despite board agreement that Sheriff’s Department did not adequately provide enough police presence.
A recent survey conducted by Metro found that 29 percent of former riders of Metro buses or trains left the system because they did not feel it was safe to ride. Eighteen percent said they would return if there were more police or sheriff deputies on buses and rail cars.
Beck said the Sheriff’s Department simply could not cover the entire 1,400-square mile Metro area and needed the help of local police departments. For example, response times for priority calls averaged 17.4 minutes and 23.4 minutes for routine calls, according to a report from BCA Watson Rice commissioned by Metro. Staff estimates response times would improve to six minutes in the city of Los Angeles and under five minutes in Long Beach, because these agencies already have patrol cars within the vicinity of buses and trains.
Adding the local police departments would cover “major gaps during shift changes” that have been occurring on Metro trains and buses under the sheriff’s department and improve what Metro staff called “poor late night coverage” and unpredictable staffing ratios.
Also, the goal is to prevent or have a bigger presence during a terrorist attack or an active shooter incident on a train or platform, such as those that have occurred in train stations in Europe and India. The staff reported that “agencies are best positioned to manage Metro incidents within their own jurisdiction” and during a major incident, a quicker and larger police presence can limit casualties.
By adding and training Long Beach police officers, Metro and Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said it would reduce crime on the Blue Line, which runs from downtown Los Angeles to Long Beach.
A Metro report of crimes in 2015 found the Blue Line and Green Line had the highest rates of violent crime per million riders of any of the five light-rail/subway lines. The Blue Line accounted for 35 percent of the total violent crimes on the rail system and the Green Line from Norwalk to Redondo Beach had 22 percent of the violent crimes. For example, the Blue Line had 83 reported aggravated assaults in 2015, as compared to 16 on the Expo Line and 19 on the Gold Line. Sex offenses in the Part 2 or less violent crimes numbered 17 on the Blue Line and 0 on the Expo Line. The highest for this category fell on the Red and Purple subway lines in Los Angeles with 25.
Metro’s rail system had a total of 460 reported violent crimes in fiscal year 2015, or about 1.26 per day; 817 property crimes or about 2.24 per day.
The existing contract with the Sheriff’s Department will be extended at least until Feb. 23 when the board will take up the issue again.
To view the original Press-Telegram news article, click here.