In an effort to make riders feel safer, the county’s largest transit agency Thursday approved sweeping changes in the way buses, trains and stations are policed, adding two other law enforcement agencies and reducing the role of sheriff’s deputies.
By a 13-0 vote, the board of Metro, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, ratified a five-year, multi-agency contract worth $645.7 million to police the agency’s 1,400 square miles that includes 2,200 buses and six rail lines.
For the first time in 14 years, Metro riders will see law enforcement officers other than Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies on trains, buses, platforms, stations and depots starting July 1:
• The Los Angeles Police Department will patrol bus and rail lines within the city of Los Angeles.
• The Long Beach Police Department will patrol eight stations of the Blue Line in Long Beach.
• Sheriff’s deputies will be assigned to the Gold Line in the San Gabriel Valley and East Los Angeles, and the Green Line, which runs through the South Bay and the Gateway Cities area in southeast Los Angeles County.
In one of the biggest changes, the sheriff’s department will no longer patrol Union Station, the transit hub in downtown Los Angeles used not only by Metro rail, but also Metrolink regional rail, Amtrak, as well as Metro and smaller bus and vanpool services.
For the first time since 2003, LAPD will have the largest law enforcement presence in the expanding transit system, the third-largest in the country. LAPD will add 168 officers on trains and buses that make up about 60 percent of Metro’s routes. The Sheriff’s Department will have 132 deputies and Long Beach police will add 14 officers, said Metro Chief Systems, Security and Law Enforcement Officer Alex Wiggins.
“That is a significant improvement over what we have now,” Wiggins told the board. Daily staffing ranging from 140 to 200 sheriff’s deputies will increase to 314 on peak days, he said.
The $5.6-billion agency has wrestled with the idea of bringing in additional police ever since an audit released in 2014 said the Sheriff’s Department’s transit bureau did not do enough community policing, had too many vacancies and did a poor job responding to rider complaints. Under new Metro CEO Phil Washington, the multi-agency plan emerged and was finally adopted after several months of wrangling, something board member and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl called “arm wrestling” among the three police agencies.
Allowing local police to respond to incidents on platforms and train stations within their jurisdictions will allow officers to respond quicker to calls for help, according to Metro. Metro predicts the new plan will reduce response times from an average of 16 minutes to five or six minutes.
Metro believes the new plan will help increase ridership. A recent survey conducted by Metro found that 29 percent of former riders left the system because they did not feel it was safe. Eighteen percent said they would return if there were more police or sheriff’s deputies on buses and rail cars.
“Our ability to increase our collaboration with additional law enforcement partners will yield an increased safety and security presence,” said John Fasana, Metro board chairman and Duarte city councilman.
For the first time in decades, LAPD will assign 30 full-time officers to ride Metro buses, said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. “This will increase safety in L.A.; it will put more cops on more buses and more trains to work in concert with those on the stations,” he said about the plan.
Not everyone agreed that Metro should add more police power.
Members of the Labor/Community Strategy Center and Fight for the Soul of the Cities testified that blacks make up only 19 percent of the ridership but 48 percent of those cited for not paying their fares and 53 percent of those arrested for fare evasion in 2015.
They repeatedly shouted “A thousand more buses, a thousand less police” after the vote and were escorted out of the auditorium.
Los Angeles Mayor and Metro board member Eric Garcetti emphasized the new plan removes sheriff’s deputies from their previous role of apprehending fare evaders. Instead, Metro has hired its own security staff to catch those who ride for free. These Metro employees may call in law enforcement but only for backup, Wiggins said.
“Those issues that were thought to be and at times were discriminatory in nature will be reduced,” said Supervisor and board member Mark Ridley-Thomas. “Now law enforcement can focus on law enforcement.”
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