metro police
Metro Police - Photo courtesy of Hayk_Shalunts on Shutterstock

The City Council Wednesday approved a six-month extension between the Los Angeles Police Department and Metro for transit policing services that were provided during the second half of 2022, including a $54 million increase to the contract budget.

The funding is for services already rendered by LAPD last year, but the item drew a lengthy discussion in the chamber as several council members called for alternatives to having police on Metro despite a 10-2 vote to approve the contract. Council members Eunisses Hernandez and Hugo Soto-Martinez dissented.

Metro saw a rise in crime in 2022, according to data presented at last week’s Metro Board of Directors meeting. The number of serious crimes increased 24% in 2022 compared to 2021. The number of reports of narcotics also nearly doubled in 2022 compared to the previous year, with 1,385 incidents cited by the Transit Watch App. The increase in drug use on Metro has impacted riders’ experience and employee safety, according to the agency’s operations, safety and customer experience committee.

The council approved the contract amid criticism of the current policing model, with some opponents using the item as an opportunity to voice their displeasure with it. Councilman Nithya Raman said she didn’t want the city to be on the hook for the $54 million if the contract wasn’t approved, but noted that what Metro riders are seeking is “something that looks really different from what we’re doing today.”

“I don’t think the solution is to take our current police response and keep replicating it, and expanding it over and over again forever,” Raman said. “But nor is it to remove that response and to replace it with nothing and say, `We’re going to develop the system later.’ We have to look directly at the problems that we’re facing.”

Councilman Bob Blumenfield, chair of the council’s budget committee, said the city would not be able to use the funding for alternative investments because it is a contract. He added that the city has more leverage if LAPD is policing Metro rather than another law enforcement agency such as the sheriff’s department.

Hernandez called the contract an “improper use of taxpayer dollars,” calling instead for more funding of other strategies to address drug use on Metro.

“Every Angeleno deserves a public transit system that allows them to travel safely and efficiently throughout our city,” Hernandez said. “This money would be much better spent on life-affirming support systems that truly do the work of creating systems of care for transit riders, including social service outreach teams.”

Councilwoman Traci Park defended the funds as necessary to keep “some law enforcement presence that can respond in real time to very serious incidents,” and said that the suggested alternatives “cannot come at the expense of public safety.”

“I personally am not going to sit idly by while people are being victimized,” Park said.

Soto-Martinez said he hoped that the item starts a discussion about re-examining public safety on Metro.

“We want to feel safe,” Soto-Martinez said. “We want people to take public transit. But the money could be used in much, much better ways.”

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