Los Angeles Metro Leaders Take Steps to Enhance Safety Amid Stabbings, Assaults

Los Angeles Metro Leaders Take Steps to Enhance Safety Amid Stabbings, Assaults

LA County Metro safety officers watch over a train station in Long Beach, Calif., on Dec. 14, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

City News Service

City News Service

5/24/2024

Updated: 5/24/2024

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LOS ANGELES—Following recent violent attacks tied to the region’s transit system, Metro’s Board of Directors May 23 approved two motions to bolster public safety on buses, rails and stations by deploying more officers and exploring ways to incorporate technology to prevent crimes.
The board voted unanimously to approve a motion introduced by Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass and Board of Directors chair, and a second motion introduced by Los Angeles County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, a member of the board.
“In March, there were nearly a million weekday riders, but the recent crime threatens to derail this progress if we cannot ensure the safety of those who want and need to use the bus and rail system,” Ms. Bass said. “We have to act to protect that progress by keeping riders safe.”
Ms. Bass had previously directed an immediate surge of law enforcement personnel across the transit system. Her motion adds to her call by instructing an increase in “daily planned deployment of public safety personnel on Metro and direct public safety personnel to be physically present on buses and trains and proactively patrol areas as well.”
Metro staff will also take steps to establish a “unified command” of the various law enforcement agencies who police the system—including Metro security, the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and Long Beach Police Department.
She also highlighted that while the transit agency contracts with law enforcement agencies Metro CEO Stephanie Wiggins is “not authorized” to request status reports on deployment to provide oversight to ensure that officers are visibly deployed and be where they are needed.
Ms. Bass noted that there is an organizational deficit that they have to think about and emphasized a need to ensure cell services. Riders and Metro workers, everyone, should help to keep one another safe by being another set of eyes and ears, she added.
Ms. Horvath’s motion instructs Metro staff to conduct a cost analysis of all public safety entities that patrol the system “to inform what visible presence is not only necessary, but most effective to make our system safer for everyone,” she had said.
“The current strategy simply isn’t working and the financial straits this agency is experiencing with a looming $1.5 billion operating deficit forecasted for fiscal year 2027,” Ms. Horvath said. “We’re not in a position to continue shouldering the budget shortfalls.”
L.A. County Supervisor and Metro Director Kathryn Barger supported Ms. Horvath’s motion, calling it a “long-term solution.” Ms. Barger has previously called for a crack down on fare-evaders, and she expressed her goal of not to criminalize those individuals.
“That’s the furthest thing from my mind,” she said. “I’ve said not all fare evaders are criminals. But every crime that has been committed has been by someone who has evaded paying fair.”
She hopes that by having discussion with law enforcement agencies they can assist transit officers to get the job done.
Inglewood Mayor and Metro Director James Butts while agreeing with his colleagues also criticized the agency’s failure to act sooner, much sooner, to address safety concerns on the system.
“We need to make sure that the only people that get on buses or trains are people that have paid the fair, period,” Mr. Butts said. “We need to have access barriers at the gate as Director Barger has said on many occasions.”
He also urged the agency implement facial recognition technology to add to their surveillance.
“This is something that I’ve been talking about for nine years, but what it takes is all these [tragedies] that happen in a short period of time,” Mr. Butts added. “The amount of crimes that occur are minimal, but because it’s Metro, everyone of them will be reported. It will shape public perception.”
Concerns about safety on the Metro system have escalated in response to the highly publicized crimes, despite statistics showing an overall drop in crime tied to buses and trains over the past year.
Metro officials have wrestled in recent years over the best way to police the transit system. Three years ago—in the post-George Floyd-protest era of calls for reductions in law enforcement spending—Metro opted to vastly expand its use of “ambassadors,” who are essentially customer service representatives positioned across the transit system to provide support and information to riders and a resource for people to report maintenance or safety issues.
According to Metro’s own website, however, the ambassadors “are not security officers and do not replace existing security personnel or law enforcement. Rather, they are an added workforce that collaborates with other Metro departments in order to maintain public safety and help make the system feel safer for our riders.”
It was unclear how much the law enforcement increase being sought by the board members would cost the transit agency.
Metro’s Board of Directors on April 29 approved an emergency procurement declaration to speed up acquisition and installation of protective barriers for drivers on about 2,000 buses due to the “sudden, unexpected increased severity of assaults on operators.”
The board also pushed for a review of other potential safety improvements, including an examination of measures such as securing all transit station entrances and exits, increasing security cameras on the system and making use of facial recognition technology.
Some bus drivers recently staged a “sick out” in protest of recent attacks on drivers.
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