Sheriff gives subway ultimatum over transit police – NBC Los Angeles
Calling the current shared policing system of the Los Angeles County transit system a failure, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said on Wednesday he would remove all of his deputies from transit patrol duties on July 1. unless his department receives a contract to provide all policing services on buses, trains, and stations.
Highlighting what he called an increase in criminal activity on metro transit lines and at stations, as well as a growing problem of homeless people loitering or even living on trains, Villanueva said that “the status quo is unacceptable. We are not going to continue with this.”
Under a contract originally approved in 2017, policing duties on the subway system are shared by the Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles and Long Beach Police Departments.
Villanueva said his agency’s agreement with Metro expires on July 1, and the department informed Metro on Wednesday that it plans to bid on the full police services contract. The contract will also require deputies to have full enforcement authority, including code of conduct violations such as trespassing, urinating, loud music and fare evasion — issues which the sheriff says were transferred to security guards or subway ambassadors in an effort. reduce the presence of law enforcement in the system.
“We will bid for the whole contract,” he told reporters. “We’re not going to bid for parts of it. We’re not going to bid for the overpaid security role.”
The sheriff said that due to a hiring freeze in his department, the agency is approaching 1,000 vacancies and that he is more than willing to remove the 300 deputies currently assigned to the transit system and to transfer them to other tasks to help fill the void.
“We have all the staff dedicated to the system – I have three jobs waiting for each deputy,” he said. “…I have the ability and the need to redeploy staff to where they are going to be sworn peace officers working as cops, saving lives, preventing crime from happening and solving crimes that do happen. It’s all about of public safety.”
He claimed the Sheriff’s Department’s contract proposal would cost $30 million less than Metro’s current police contracts. But he said full enforcement authority over the transit system will be needed and the issue “is not negotiable”.
“It will be a contract in which we will apply the code of conduct, tariff evasion and the rule of law,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to do.”
Metro officials could not be reached for immediate comment.
Metro’s board in December increased its law enforcement contract budgets, but also continued efforts to move toward a more community-based approach to public safety, relying on ambassadors and officers to respond to violations of basic conduct, rather than armed law enforcement. The effort began the day after the death of George Floyd, which sparked a nationwide reassessment of policing.
Metro’s vision includes efforts such as transit ambassadors, elevator attendants and a flexible dispatch system to enable response by homeless outreach workers, mental health specialists and staff unarmed security.
Transit Ambassadors would be trained in de-escalation and customer service to support transit workers and riders.
Villanueva pointed to various recent high-profile crimes in the subway system, including people being pushed in front of oncoming trains by homeless people, the shooting of passengers on trains, a recent knife attack at Willowbrook station and the recent case of a homeless man who died on a train but was not discovered for six hours. He said Tuesday’s shooting aboard a New York City subway train highlighted the need for comprehensive security systems on public transit lines.
The LAPD issued a statement via Twitter on Wednesday evening, insisting that there has been a drop in violent crime in the subway system from pre-pandemic levels.
“MTA traffic safety has not changed in importance to the Los Angeles Police Department since winning the MTA contract in 2017,” according to the LAPD. “The men and women of the LAPD diligently monitor trains, platforms and buses every day, 24 hours a day. This is evident when comparing pre-pandemic violent crimes from 2019 to 2022, as there is a decrease of 22% translates to 47 fewer victims of a violent crime.
“We continue to work with MTA, various employee unions, Amtrak and our law enforcement partners at LASD and Long Beach.”
Hours after her press conference ended, Villanueva issued a “clarifying” statement saying, “At no time did I issue any scattershots to the (LAPD Officers’ Union) Los Angeles Police Protective League and the Department Los Angeles Police Department My comments have been directed at decisions made by the City of Los Angeles and the MTA Board of Directors and are in no way a reflection of the brave men and women of the LAPPL and LAPD, who do an amazing job for the Angelenos they protect and serve.”