A much-touted Metro hotline intended to field reports of sexual harassment aboard the agency’s buses and trains is costing roughly $8,000 per phone call, with the money going to a local charity hired without a bidding process, according to a Fox11 report.
The television station, concluding what it called a months-long investigation, reported that the “Off Limits” hotline was established in 2017, with Los Angeles-based Peace Over Violence contracted to run the effort. The various contacts ultimately totaled more than $800,000, the station reported.
But a Metro special project manager told the station the round-the-clock hotline has received very few legitimate phone calls since its inception. Records obtained from Metro by Fox11 show the line has received more than 1,300 calls since 2017, but the Metro project manager, Jennifer Loew, who is suing the agency for retaliation, told the station the bulk of those calls were not legitimate.
According to the station, Loew provided documents showing that in January 2017, none of the 137 calls Metro reported receiving on the line were legitimate, with all being either hang-ups, tests or not applicable to the line’s purpose.
In October 2019, only eight of 29 calls reported by Metro turned out to be legitimate harassment reports, the station reported. Of the 349 calls to the line in 2019, 260 were wrong numbers or hang-ups, according to Fox11.
Through August of this year, only 13 legitimate sexual-harassment-related calls have been received on the line, equating to a per-call cost of $8,450, the station reported.
Loew told the station she took her cost concerns to Metro officials twice this year, but no action was taken. Loew said the various contracts given by Metro to Peace Over Violence to operate the line were never approved by the agency’s Board of Directors.
Metro officials defended the hotline, telling the station in a statement, “Yes, there have been misdialed numbers or hang-ups, but of that total number, more than 230 calls have been specific sexual assault or harassment calls that have helped victims. The success of the hotline is not based on the volume of calls. It is a critical resource available to our transit customers 24/7. If 911 received a low number of calls, would you recommend it be shut down?”
Metro also denied allegations by Loew that county Supervisor Sheila Kuehl — a Metro board member and a close friend of Peace Over Violence executive director Patti Giggans — worked behind the scenes to direct the contract to the charitable group.
Kuehl’s office issued a statement to Fox11 also denying that she had any involvement in awarding the contract to Peace Over Violence.
“The choice was made and negotiated by the Metro CEO Phil Washington and his staff, recognizing that there was no better organization to help develop a message and program related to the growing issue of sexual harassment on Metro’s buses and trains,” according to Kuehl’s office. “As for the efficacy of the contract, if each month, 10 women had the courage to call for help, it is worth every penny.”
Loew is suing Metro, alleging she was retaliated against after reporting her concerns about the hotline, saying she was denied a promotion and moved out of her executive-floor office to a basement level.
The Metro contract with Peace Over Violence runs through next year, according to Fox11.
Peace Over Violence told the station, in part, “We do not inflate the call numbers and we count accurately all the calls that are received on the Off Limits hotline. According to our contract, all calls coming into the hotline are legitimate. … We cannot put a price tag on serving a survivor of violence and there are no quotas associated with our hotlines. We are there to serve the people that call 24/7. This is not a fee-per-survivor service. Metro is paying for the program, not per survivor.”
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