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Chucking rude teenagers off its trains won't help Metro win back frightened riders

Chucking rude teenagers off its trains won't help Metro win back frightened riders
Passengers fill the platform of the Metro Red and Purple Line at Union Station in Los Angeles. (Los Angeles Times)

Yes, of course, you shouldn't put your shoes on the subway seats. It's rude, it's dirty, and it takes up space where others might want to sit. If someone — particularly a police officer — asks you to remove your feet from the seat, you should do so. That's basic courtesy, and it's common sense too.

But not everybody knows that, apparently. On Monday, an LAPD sergeant directed an 18-year-old woman to take her foot off the seat. When she disobeyed his command, he eventually ordered her off the train. When she resisted, he grabbed her arm and physically dragged her off as she clung to a railing. She didn't have time to grab her bag and cellphone. A significant portion of the incident, but not the exchanges at the start of the dispute, was captured on video, which has now been viewed more than 7 million times.

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Metro needs officers who are adequately trained in deescalation strategies that can be used to address rude riders without getting physical.


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On the platform, he was berated and cursed at by the young woman and other passersby for "abuse of power." He called for police backup, and another woman spat on one of those officers. The first woman was cited for "loud and boisterous conduct" and released; the second woman was arrested on "suspicion of battery of a police officer."

The incident is disturbing for a number of reasons. The young woman was clearly in the wrong for violating Metro's rules, for apparently refusing to take her foot off the seat, and for being terribly rude to the officer. For the last year, Metro has invested in an extensive public education campaign about its Code of Conduct. There are posters all over the system, as well as announcements and videos, reminding people not to dump their trash on the train, "man-spread" or hog the seats with their feet or baggage.

It's part of a larger effort to make the public feel comfortable riding the system. So is the near doubling of police on the trains: Almost 30% of people who stopped riding the subways said they did so because they did not feel safe, according to a Metro survey.

But law enforcement has specifically been directed to educate riders and enforce the Code of Conduct "in a friendly manner." So the sergeant was doing his job — up to a point. Did he have to drag the woman off the train? Is there no other way to handle a rude passenger? For several years we've been hearing about the training LAPD officers get on deescalating tense situations, many of which involve interactions in which citizens challenge an officer's authority. Was that training put to use in this case?

Metro Chief Executive Phil Washington issued a statement saying, "We want our Customer Code of Conduct rules enforced, but I'm disappointed at the way the situation escalated." Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck both rightly noted that the much-watched video told only part of the story.

Still, if Metro leaders are serious about having "community policing" and improving the customer experience, then the agency needs officers who are adequately trained in deescalation strategies that can be used to address rude riders without getting physical.

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