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Vote on LAPD transit patrols sparks City Hall debate over safety on Metro system

Security personnel walk through Los Angeles Union Station in 2021.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)
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The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to extend the LAPD’s contract to patrol Metro’s buses and trains, setting off a fresh debate over rising crime on the region’s transit system and the push to find alternatives to police.

On a 10-2 vote, the council retroactively approved a six-month contract extension for security services at Metro, also known as the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The extension, which covered the last six months of 2022, increased the overall size of the Metro’s contract by an additional $54 million, according to a report submitted to the council.

Councilmembers Eunisses Hernandez and Hugo Soto-Martinez cast the two dissenting votes, saying Metro should put more money into outreach workers, unarmed response teams and “life affirming support systems.”

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Hernandez, who represents such areas as Mt. Washington, Highland Park and Lincoln Heights, called the contract extension an “improper use of taxpayer dollars,” saying it lacked sufficient oversight. She also warned that the deployment of police officers would lead to harassment of Black passengers and transit riders who are unhoused.

The Los Angeles Police Department union wants to free up officers to tackle major crimes by no longer having them respond to less serious calls.

March 1, 2023

“The millions that we’ve put into this contract have not made us safer and have not made the train stations in my district any safer,” said Hernandez, a self-described abolitionist on law enforcement and prisons.

Councilmember Traci Park, who represents coastal neighborhoods, defended the contract extension, noting that bus and train riders faced a 24% increase in serious crime on Metro’s system last year. On average, 14 bus drivers were assaulted each month of last year — working conditions that are “unacceptable by any standard,” Park said.

“I personally am not going to sit idly by while people are being victimized,” she said.

Wednesday’s debate served as a preview of the heated deliberations that are expected in the coming months over safety at Metro. Drug use on the transit network is rampant, with fatal drug overdoses rising sharply. Boardings on Metro’s rail lines, which have been undergoing a major expansion, remain at 62% of pre-pandemic levels last year.

Against that backdrop, Metro’s 13-member board will have to decide whether to strike a new contract with the LAPD or find other strategies for improving security. Some transit advocates are pushing the board to scrap law enforcement in favor of unarmed ambassadors, social workers, elevator attendants and the addition of sidewalk vendors on rail platforms.

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Soto-Martinez and Hernandez called on their colleagues to reject the contract extension. But Councilmember Nithya Raman resisted that idea, noting that LAPD officers have already worked the hours that are spelled out in the contract extension — work that Metro requested.

“Voting no on this item today means that the city would actually end up being on the hook for payments that have already been made to police officers who have delivered these services to Metro,” she said.

The LAPD officers’ union issued a sharper assessment, saying rejection of the contract would have blown a “$50-million hole” in the city budget. “We are scratching our heads wondering why two council members are so embittered toward police that they would say no to $50 million,” said union spokesperson Tom Saggau.

Metro’s contract extension was not the only split vote at Wednesday’s meeting.

Soto-Martinez, who represents such areas as Hollywood, Glassell Park and Windsor Square, spoke out against the council’s plan to accept nearly $43,000 in county funding to pay for an upcoming city gun buyback event — in part because it will be staffed by police officers.

Councilmember Tim McOsker defended the event, which is scheduled for Saturday in the Wilmington, saying it would allow people who are no longer comfortable having a gun in their home to turn in that weapon. Each gun that is turned in will not go off during a household accident or be stolen and then used in a crime, McOsker said.

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Soto-Martinez said that while he is happy to see guns removed from the street, he remains concerned that officers are slated to receive more than $38,000 in overtime pay at the event. He also questioned whether it was necessary for the LAPD to be involved at all.

“We’ve just had a discussion about Metro. We can see how our taxpayer dollars are being spent,” he said. “Here we come again, it’s the same issues coming before us.”

The grant money was approved on a 10-2 vote. Hernandez joined Soto-Martinez in voting no.

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