Los Angeles Times

Vote to extend LAPD transit patrols sparks safety debate

Dissenting council member says using police means Black riders will be harassed.

- By David Zahniser and Rachel Uranga

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 sixmonth 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.”

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 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 overdoses rising sharply. Boardings on Metro’s rail lines, which have been undergoing a major expansion, remain at 62% of prepandemi­c 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.

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, set for Saturday in Wilmington, saying it would allow people who are no longer comfortabl­e having a gun in their home to turn in that weapon.

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