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MTA’s Police Force Nears End of the Line

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Beginning July 1, the same cops will be policing Los Angeles buses and trains--but their uniforms, badges and boss will be different.

Under a “transition plan” expected to be approved today by the Los Angeles Police Commission, the merger between the LAPD and the 300-officer Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police Department will, by and large, be completed within the next three weeks.

The MTA will be getting out of the business of policing local public transportation and the Los Angeles Police and Sheriff’s Departments are planning to jump in.

“There are really no holdups at this point,” said LAPD Lt. Ken Hillman, who has been working on the massive merger, which was formally approved by the City Council two months ago after years of planning. “We’re just tying up the loose ends right now. It looks like all the issues have been resolved.”

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Under the merger plans, the LAPD would absorb about 60% of the MTA’s police operations while the remaining 40% would go to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to patrol areas outside the Los Angeles city limits. The MTA would then contract with the two agencies to police buses and trains in the city and county.

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Police and MTA officials contend that the merger will result in improved and better-coordinated services. Hillman said the MTA is reimbursing the city for all costs associated with the transition.

Although the merger plan has been approved, the city and the MTA still are finalizing the $24-million annual contract that calls for the LAPD to police all buses that run within the city’s borders, as well as the Metro Red Line serving downtown Los Angeles. Hillman said he expects the contract to be presented for approval to the City Council later this week. The deal between the MTA and the Sheriff’s Department is expected to be approved by the Board of Supervisors in July.

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Over the last two months, the MTA’s police force of more than 300 officers has undergone medical, personal and psychological background checks, uniform fittings and LAPD or sheriff’s training programs in preparation for the switch. Under the merger, 185 MTA officers would go to the LAPD and 127 would go to the Sheriff’s Department. MTA officers with the most seniority were given the first opportunity to select the agency they wanted to join.

Hillman said that many MTA officers selected the agency that offered them the best benefits package. Officers with more years on the MTA force, he said, found the sheriff’s pension rules more financially rewarding, while younger officers tended to prefer the Police Department benefits package.

After the merger, the former MTA officers initially would be responsible for policing the public transit systems. Eventually, those officers would be trained and allowed to transfer to other LAPD assignments.

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The entire integration of MTA police functions is expected to take up two years to complete as authorities address infrastructure, radio communication and training issues. Additionally, the police and sheriff’s departments are working on jurisdictional issues for buses and trains that cut across the city and county boundaries.

If the merger is a success, LAPD officials hope it will help pave the way for approval of the department’s larger and more ambitious plan to absorb the city’s other independent police agencies, including the airport, parks and school police departments.


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