MTA Staff Urges Sheriff Take Over Agency's Policing

Times Staff Writer

Officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority are recommending that the entire security contract for policing the agency's buses and trains be given to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, a move that would strip the LAPD of some territory and greatly increase the number of sheriff's deputies throughout Los Angeles.

The MTA's 13-member board will consider the recommendation as it prepares to vote on the five-year contract today.

The staff recommendation, which was detailed in a 23-page document, is based primarily on the savings contained in the Sheriff's Department bid for the policing contract. The MTA could save more than $25 million over the contract's five years.

Board members and officials reached by The Times speculated that the vote would be extremely tight, though most said they expected the staff's recommendation to give the Sheriff's Department a slight edge over the LAPD.

Another possibility is that the board could decide to take the vote off today's agenda and return to it next month, extending the time to consider the controversial issue.

LAPD officials insisted that no matter what happens, they should be part of the mix. "It's simply a matter of good policing and common sense. We should be the one policing the system in our own city," Deputy Chief Sharon Papa said. "When a major incident occurs on the subway or a bus in the city, the sheriff is not going to have units in the city to respond. We are the ones that will be there, and there would be less complications if we can work with our own transit people."

Sheriff Lee Baca and LAPD Chief William K. Bratton are expected to speak at today's meeting on their departments' behalf.

Since 1997, the LAPD and the Sheriff's Department have split a $52-million yearly contract to patrol the MTA's bus and rail system. An LAPD division of about 200 officers works on Los Angeles city buses and the Red Line subway. Nearly 150 sheriff's deputies police the Green Line and Blue Line railways and MTA buses countywide.

Although unusual among big-city transit agencies, the arrangement is credited with keeping crime extremely low.

Starting last summer, however, the MTA set out to renew its five-year security contract. The MTA asked both police agencies for concessions, seeking to cut costs and give the MTA more say in officer deployment and other matters.

Both agencies have been intensively lobbying for the new contract. The LAPD wants to maintain its responsibilities and add the 14-mile Gold Line, which is due to open in July and connect downtown Los Angeles to Pasadena. The Sheriff's Department has been more aggressive. It has pressed to take over the entire MTA contract, meaning that its deputies would patrol buses and trains throughout the entire county, from Santa Monica to the Wilshire corridor to Pomona.

"We are for hire," said Capt. Dan Finkelstein, head of the sheriff's transit unit. "Whatever they want, we are going to give them. In this case, they wanted cost savings. We are giving them that. They want customer service, we're giving them that too."

The Sheriff's Department bid reduces the amount it would charge the MTA by about $15,000 per deputy, according to the MTA staff report. The LAPD bid would raise the cost per officer by about $10,000, the report said.

MTA officials said that awarding the contract to the Sheriff's Department would save the transit agency $7 million in the first year. Officials said the savings could fluctuate slightly over the contract's term.

LAPD and city officials said it would be a mistake to award the contract based solely on the sheriff's lower bid.

"There's a great deal more that needs to be factored into the equation than cost," said Papa. "The question is, what's really in the best interests of the public?"

The contract is a major budgetary concern at City Hall. Over the last five years, the MTA has paid more than $100 million to the city's general fund.

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