Los Angeles County Metro’s board is still discussing a potential plan to assemble an in-house police force to patrol its transit network, but an update given to the board Thursday left directors with more questions than answers.

Metro’s board has voiced frustrations with the agency’s existing contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles and Long Beach police departments, which have been in place since 2017.

That contract, which has ballooned to more than $900 million, has not provided the kind of public safety the agency hoped for. What’s more, a 2022 inspector general’s report found that the officers assigned to the transit system might not be providing the services Metro is paying for.

That led to the board voting in June for a report on what a transition to an in-house police force could look like, including the costs and mechanics of pivoting back to a Metro-run police force.

In a preliminary report given to directors Thursday, Gina Osborn, the agency’s chief safety officer, said that a Metro-led agency could increase coverage and public trust of officers and make sure the agency’s values are ingrained in the officers policing its system.

Officers would be given mandatory mental health, de-escalation, customer service and communication training, Osborn said, and a “zone deployment model” could allow officers to get to know their service area better and develop better relationships with riders.

But Thursday’s update lacked specifics that some directors said were critical before they could even begin to think of implementing a massive overhaul of public safety for Metro’s bus and train lines.

“That’s a huge shift and I don’t think we have the answers to ‘how much is that really going to cost? Is it going to be safer? Is crime going to come down on our systems? Is this what the riders are asking for?’” said Director Janice Hahn, who voted against the request for the report last year.

A more detailed report is expected in the next few months, but preliminary projections from Metro found switching to an in-house police force could cost the agency approximately $135 million per year, compared to the $173 million it’s spending annually on the current contract with three different law enforcement agencies.

The LBPD makes up the smallest share of that contract, as its officers only patrol the part of the A-Line that operates in the city, but the contract pays for about 30 LBPD officers, according to Metro’s data.

Osborn said if directors decide to move forward with the plan, there would be a transition period where Metro would still pay for contracted police services while it hires its own officers, which would add to its expenses in the short run.

Some directors said Thursday that Metro should look at the deployment model Osborn described with its current officers to see if public safety could be improved without the dramatic and potentially costly step of creating its own police force.

According to Metro’s data through November, crimes against persons were up 12.7% systemwide, while crimes against property were down about 14.5% for the 12-month period starting in December 2022.

However, crimes against society – which includes those involving weapons, narcotics and trespassing – were up nearly 553% compared to the previous 12-month period.

While some board members expressed a desire to fix the current model, others pointed out that the agencies currently under contract have refused to implement Metro’s policies of bias-free policing and other strategies the board has approved.

Board members remained at odds, but in public comments, meeting attendees were unanimous in their belief that Metro should spend less on police officers and more on social workers and other professionals trained to help people in crisis as well as employees to keep trains clean.

Director James Butts reiterated his position: regardless of who is policing the lines, some type of geolocation should be used to ensure that officers are where they’re supposed to be, he said. The issue was raised by the inspector general’s report.

“When people get used to doing a job and they find the easiest way to do it for them, they don’t spend the time being where they’re supposed to be,” Butts said.

The board is expected to get a more detailed report within the next few months before potentially deciding whether or not the agency should pursue creating its own police force.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.