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Vote on LAPD transit patrols sparks City Hall debate over safety on Metro system

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday voted to extend the LAPD’s contract to patrol Metro’s buses and trains.

By a vote of 10 to 2, the board retroactively approved a six-month contract extension for security services at Metro, also known as the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The extension, which spanned the last six months of 2022, increased the total size of the Metro’s contract by an additional $54 million, according to a report submitted to the municipality.

Councilors Eunisses Hernandez and Hugo Soto-Martinez cast the two votes against, saying Metro should put more money into street workers, unarmed response teams and “life-affirming support systems.”

Hernandez, covering areas like Mt. representing Washington, Highland Park and Lincoln Heights, called the contract extension an “improper use of taxpayers’ money,” and said it lacked sufficient oversight. She also warned that the use of police officers would lead to harassment of black passengers and transit passengers who are not housed.

“The millions we put into this contract have not made us any safer and have not made the train stations in my district any safer,” said Hernandez, a self-declared abolitionist in law enforcement and prisons.

Councilman Traci Park, representing the coastal districts, defended the contract extension, noting that bus and train drivers faced a 24% increase in serious crime on the Metro system last year. On average, 14 bus drivers were assaulted each month last year — working conditions that are “unacceptable by any measure,” Park said.

“I personally am not going to stand idly by while people are victimized,” she said.

Wednesday’s debate served as a prelude to the heated deliberations expected over the coming months over security at Metro. Drug use on the transit network is widespread, with fatal overdoses on the rise. Boarding on Metro’s rail lines, which have undergone major expansion, remains at 62% of pre-pandemic levels last year.

Against that backdrop, Metro’s 13-member board will have to decide whether to sign a new contract with the LAPD or find other strategies to improve security. Some public transportation advocates are urging the administration to do away with law enforcement in favor of unarmed ambassadors, social workers, elevator attendants, and the addition of sidewalk vendors at platforms.

Soto-Martinez and Hernandez called on their colleagues to reject the contract extension. But council member Nithya Raman opposed that idea, noting that LAPD officers have already been working the hours stated in the contract extension — work that Metro requested.

“Voting against this item today means the city will ultimately be poked at for payments already made to police officers who provided these services to Metro,” she said.

The LAPD officers’ union issued a harsher assessment, saying rejection of the contract would have blown a “$50 million hole” in the city’s budget. “We are scratching our heads wondering why two council members are so bitter towards the police that they would say no to $50 million,” said union spokesman Tom Saggau.

Metro’s contract extension wasn’t the only split vote at Wednesday’s meeting.

Soto-Martinez, who represents areas like 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 gun buyback event — in part because it will be staffed by police officers .

Councilman Tim McOsker defended the event, scheduled for Saturday in Wilmington, saying people who no longer feel comfortable having a gun in their home could turn that gun in. Any gun that is turned in will fail to go off in a home accident or be stolen and then used in a crime, McOsker said.

Soto-Martinez said while he’s happy guns have been removed from the streets, he remains concerned that officers will receive more than $38,000 in overtime pay during the event. He also wondered if it was even necessary for the LAPD to be involved.

“We just had a discussion about Metro. We can see how our tax money is being spent,” he said. “Here we come again, it’s the same problems that come before us.”

The grant money was approved by a 10 to 2 vote. Hernandez, along with Soto-Martinez, voted no.