Additional contributions by Sahra Sulaiman and Joe Linton. Photo by Brian Addison.
Metro Los Angeles Board unanimously approved a $646M multi-agency policing contract, providing the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) full control of the the stretch of Blue Line that runs through Long Beach.
The contract, originally proposed last year at lower cost of $546M, has been a source of frustration and contention as the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, the authority historically having jurisdiction over all 105 miles of Metro’s light rails, has been lagging in response times and criticized by both riders and municipalities—including Long Beach.
This marks the first major success for Mayor Robert Garcia after he was elected by other mayors to serve on the Metro Board, marking the first time in over a decade that Long Beach has a seat on the board. In his first town hall about his Metro hopes and responsibilities, Garcia emphasized that the contract was essential in “letting Long Beach own its own safety destiny.”
“If I can end my four-year service with Metro with dramatic changes to the Blue Line, I’ll have done my job,” Garcia said at the town hall. “If not, you should be upset with me.”
The hopes are high for the new contract: 30% of light rail riders say they already feel unsafe, putting safety as a larger concern over other things like efficiency and accessibility and location, while Metro’s own safety audit from 2014 directly concluded the LASD had failed to meet targets for everything from crime reduction to being present. Perhaps most scathing in terms of LASD’s service is that the organization maintained a 16-minute average response time for riders calling in safety concerns (and that, according to Garcia, will be reduced to less than 5 minutes now that LBPD oversees the eight Long Beach stations).
The contract’s approval was not met with complete cheering. Fight for the Soul of the Cities, a group associated with the Bus Riders Union and part of a partnershiph with the Labor/Community Strategy Center (LCSC) that filed a civil rights complaint against Metro last year, chanted “1000 more buses, 1000 less police” while holding a banner with the same words.
Their reasons for raising an eyebrow over more policing are clear:
- Blacks are 19% of rail riders but make up nearly 50% of Metro citations and nearly 60% of LASD arrests each year.
- From 2012 and through May 2016, Metro and LASD combined have issued close to a half a million citations at 455,388. Of this total, black riders made up at least 48% of those cited.
- From 2012 to 2015, black riders received over 50% of fare evasion citations while white riders received 9% to 10% of fare evasion citations. Blacks constitute 19% of rail ridership, while whites constitute 13%.
In short, they feel that systemic racism and discrimination prompt and fuel tensions between riders of color and the police. Even more, in the words of fellow journalist and activist Sahra Sulaiman, “It feels like we’re criminalizing poverty.” She goes on:
Sheriffs’ cars parked at Mariachi Plaza or on the plaza itself at Soto and aggressively chasing away skateboarders, officers timing patrols to coincide with school hours, officers boarding trains at every other stop, and (occasionally) beefy white officers in wacky plainclothes outfits aggressively demanding TAP cards from folks of color – it all feels like criminalization and intimidation.
It also looks like criminalization of poverty: if you’ve ever seen a black or brown youth stopped for fare evasion, then you’ve likely seen that youth be treated as if he were a dangerous suspect – asked to face the wall, spread their legs, and submit to a search. Occasionally they’re cuffed. On other occasions they’re detained for lengthy periods of time. All because they failed to pay a $1.75 fare or committed some other minor infraction.
These kinds of practices serve to confirm the fears of casual riders, particularly those of privilege, that transit is unsafe and many of the people on it are dangerous. Because why else would people be subjected to that kind of treatment if they weren’t dangerous?
Despite these concerns, discussion surrounding the contract were largely pro-police, with a sentiment of The More, The Merrier. From garnering former riders who had abandoned the system to creating an overall better experience, the Board honed in on the idea that more policing, particularly from LAPD and LBPD, would benefit Metro’s riders and the system’s image.
The policing contract is broken down as follows:
- LAPD – $370M (57%)
- LASD – $246M (38%)
- LBPD – $30M (5%)
These combine with Metro’s in-house police ($70M) and contracted private security ($82M) for an overall annual policing budget totaling $797M per year.
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