Frustrated with local law enforcement agencies, Los Angeles County transit officials on Thursday rejected their proposals for a new contract to patrol buses and trains and signed a plan to explore creating their own police force.
The move was a rebuke to local law enforcement who have been the backbone of Metro security, costing the agency $912 million over the past six years. A Audit of the Office of the Inspector General Last year it found that law enforcement agencies had little visibility into the system and did not have adequate means to monitor the deployment of officers, and that its process for dealing with citizen complaints lacked transparency.
Still, the board that oversees the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved extending the current police contract with the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Long Beach Police Department for one more year, with a clause that allows it to be renewed annually until 2026.
The board voted 11 to 1 in favor of the contract, with board member and supervisor Holly Mitchell abstaining. Supervisor Lindsey Horvath issued the only dissent.
The contract expired on June 30.
“We are paying a lot of money for these contracts and it is clear that crime is a problem. Perception of crime is an issue,” said Janice Hahn, a Metro board member and county supervisor. “It almost feels like we’re giving these three agencies another chance.”
The audit found that sheriff’s deputies worked largely from patrols outside stations and buses, riding the trains for just 12 of 178 weekly shifts. LAPD officers patrolled more at the stations, but slightly more than half of the emergency calls were answered by neighborhood patrol officers who were not assigned to Metro.
Last year, violent crime in the system was 40% above pre-pandemic levels, when the number of passengers was much higher.
Metro originally sought proposals for a new security contract, but scrapped the effort after the LAPD and the Beverly Hills Police Department refused to fully incorporate the agency’s deployment and oversight strategies.
“Accepting those proposals would have resulted in inconsistent policing throughout our transit system, which would be detrimental to Metro, our employees and our customers,” said Dave Sotero, Metro spokesman. “If we had accepted the contracts with the exceptions, we would have basically been accepting the status quo, which is clearly not working.”
Social justice groups have called on the agency to break ties with the departments, arguing that the money could be better spent on social services such as homeless relief and improvements to stations, including restrooms.
It comes as Metro is trying to take a more holistic approach to policing. On Thursday it adopted a bias-free policing policy aimed at avoiding racial profiling and recently added ambassadors who help cyclists find their way or tag along when they feel unsafe. It is also subsidizing a shelter program.
Both the LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department said they work closely with Metro and are willing to address their complaints, though they disagreed with some of the audit findings.
Under the contract process, board approval preauthorizes Metro to negotiate a renewal.
Horvath tried to override that with an alternate proposal that would give the board final say on the contract. Ultimately it failed.
“We cannot blindly hand out taxpayer dollars for contracted services without knowing what we are getting in return,” he said. “We do not have specific details about the deployment and responsibility of those agencies.”