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Mayor Bass orders police ‘surge’ on subway lines amid surge in violence

Mayor Karen Bass ordered a “surge” in law enforcement inside the region’s hundreds of buses and miles of subways, saying subway riders don’t feel safe after a series of violent attacks that shook an agency already struggling to improve security and increase ridership. .

The decision by Bass, who heads the board of directors of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of Los Angeles County, marks a significant change for the agency, which chose not to increase the presence of law enforcement to reduce the drug use, crime and disruptive behavior. Critics come from all sides. Some say it’s too little, too late, others say this tactic is doomed to failure and only criminalizes people with drug addictions, serious mental illnesses and unhoused people.

“The rise in violent crime on the subway that we have recently seen against operators and riders is absolutely unacceptable,” Bass said. “We wanted to act immediately because we understand that our number one job is to make Angelenos in Los Angeles County feel safe.”

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass speaks during a news conference with Metro leaders to introduce a motion to

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass speaks during a news conference with Metro leaders to introduce a motion to make the subway safer for riders and operators, at Metro headquarters in Los Angeles on May 16, 2024.

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Pressure has increased on Metro and Bass as they face a near-daily barrage of new attacks on passengers and drivers. Three people were stabbed in two separate incidents earlier this week. Last month, Mirna Soza, 66, was fatally stabbed on the subway while returning from her night shift and a passenger captured a bus driver pleading for help after being stabbed. The list goes on.

“Increased crime threatens to derail our goal of surpassing 1.2 million weekday travelers if we cannot ensure the safety of those who want and need to use the bus and train,” Bass wrote in a motion which will be voted on next week. the meeting of the Metro board of directors.

The proposal aims to formalize increased deployment levels, although Metro or the mayor’s office won’t say exactly how many officers that involves or for how long. It also directs law enforcement to “proactively scour railcars and buses” and ensure there are no interruptions in service during shift changes. And it aims to repair all inactive cell phone service points, so people can report crime and call for help.

But critics say more police is not the solution. The costs are too high, eating up much of a proposed $9 billion budget, and so far, increased law enforcement has failed to reduce crime.

“Over the past seven years, Metro has spent more than $1.1 billion on enforcement; budget allocations for Metro police contracts increase every year and yet that doesn’t get us any closer to a nice and safe system,” said Laura Raymond, director of ACT-LA, the Alliance for Community Transportation. The group represents dozens of community groups advocating for free fares, better service and other social justice issues on public transit.

“Metro cannot afford to continue wasting time and money on a strategy that is failing. »

Police officers patrol the Los Angeles Metro Red Line on Wednesday.

Police officers patrol the Los Angeles Metro Red Line on Wednesday, May 15, 2024.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

There are about 600 uniformed officers from the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Long Beach Police Department patrolling the system, said Robert Gummer, who oversees Metro security. . There are also 200 transit security officers. It’s unclear how Metro will fund an increase in daily deployment and whether that will mean hiring more staff or recruiting more police officers.

As it stands, Metro faces a 10% increase in law enforcement costs in the next budget, with no increase in deployment.

Officials are grappling with how to make the system more secure, even as ambitious plans are underway for serious expansion. Next week, the council is expected to approve environmental approvals that would extend two light rail lines, the C Line further south to Torrance and the E Line east to Whittier.

But many of the system’s achievements are overshadowed by waves of crime.

Last month’s monthly board meeting might have been otherwise memorable for environmental approvals for the first segment of the Southeast Gateway Line, a 14.5-mile light rail line running through the heart of Southeast County. East. Instead, the board took a deep dive into how to prevent crimes in a system it’s about to show off to the world at the 2028 Olympics. The litany of measures the board currently being considered includes the feasibility of facial recognition devices and securing station doors.

The board has already invested tens of millions of dollars in expanding its ambassador programs, improving design and providing homeless outreach. Over the past 10 months, it has housed 1,700 people seeking shelter in the system.

For their part, law enforcement has repeatedly defended its work, saying many of the quality-of-life crimes plaguing the system have declined in recent months, despite the high-profile attacks.

But within the agency, there are difficult relations with uniformed officers.

Former safety chief Gina Osborn and the union representing train drivers and operators have both advocated for Metro to create its own dedicated police force. And the 13-member board — made up of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Mayor Bass, his three appointees as well as regional representatives — asked staff to investigate whether it was feasible.

“Throwing more uniformed bodies onto the platform will not increase the security of the system if the uniformed presence is not engaged,” Osborn said.

Outside law enforcement has “no ownership in the system,” she said. “Why don’t they invest in transit security officers who can actually restore order to the system?”

Osborn says she was fired in March after running for office general inspector of the agency that contracted law enforcement officers failed to show up for work, leaving a light rail station in Santa Monica without any protection.

Adding more security may work for a month or two, she said, but after the officers disappear, the problem reappears.

Times Staff Writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.

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