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Transportation and Mobility

LA Metro Votes To Extend Law Enforcement Contracts And Fund Public Safety Alternatives

A metro rail train passes by a person standing on the passenger platform wearing a blue shirt. There is a nighttime cityscape in the background.
(Courtesy L.A. Metro)
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L.A. Metro officials voted Thursday to continue funding their contracts with local law enforcement agencies that patrol the county’s buses and trains. On a separate but related motion, officials approved a plan to fund public safety alternatives on transit lines to the tune of $40 million.

The Metro Board of Directors will add $75 million to the contracts and extend them six months through Dec. 2022. The money pays for officers from the LAPD, the Long Beach Police Department, and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.

According to the Metro staff report recommending the actions approved Thursday, the continued funds and contract extension “will allow sufficient time for [the Public Safety Advisory Committee] to submit its recommendations for a new model of public safety reflecting alternative community-based approaches to policing.”

Board member and L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin abstained on the vote to keep the contracts, arguing that they have been “poorly managed.” Board member and County Supervisor Holly Mitchell also abstained.

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'A Clear Path Forward'

The motion to invest in alternatives “provides a clear path forward on how to get from spending more money to pay out the remainder of the contract today to a transition year next year as some alternatives finally start to come online and law enforcement can start to be scaled back in moderation,” Bonin said.

Board member Hilda Solis said approving the contracts would give the county time to "figure out how law enforcement will work in conjunction with new key programs, such as the new transit ambassador program and a robust partnership with our very own L.A. County Department of Mental Health."

The vote to continue funding the contracts comes amid extensive debate over how best to handle security on Metro’s lines.

Transit activist groups, including Alliance for Community Transit-Los Angeles, have argued that the money going to police should be invested in non-law enforcement options like transit ambassadors and outreach workers.

'Sing Kumbaya Or Something'

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors is also interested in having Department of Mental Health workers respond to psychiatric crises on Metro’s buses and trains, rather than relying solely on law enforcement. The Board voted in October to direct Mental Health to work with Metro to come up with an agreement for the possible collaboration, although as of Thursday, no contract was in place.

On Wednesday, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva criticized the idea of using transit ambassadors in some cases instead of deputies. “I guess [they would] sing Kumbaya or something, expect[ing] that the trains are magically [going to] become a safer place: they’re not,” he said in comments on his regular Facebook Live session. The sheriff also said he would be recommending to the Metro Board that Sheriff’s deputies should “police the entire system.”

At a press conference last month, Villanueva pointed to a rise in crime on Metro as a reason to continue funding law enforcement contracts.

His deputies currently patrol L.A.’s buses and trains along with LAPD and the Long Beach PD.

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In March, Metro cleared additional funds of $36 million for law enforcement contracts.

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One of my goals on the mental health beat is to make the seemingly intractable mental health care system more navigable.