Metro, county partner to provide mental health services on trains, buses, and decrease police involvement

Teams of mental health professionals will soon be deployed at Metro stations and on trains and buses, with the goal of improving safety for transit riders and minimizing police intervention, officials recently announced.

The program, part of a partnership between Metro and the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, includes teams that will be deployed to “hotspots” that have been deemed in need of crisis response. The individuals suffering mental health episodes—including those who may need a 72-hour involuntary hospitalization—will be provided resources and transport to the appropriate facilities, according to Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn’s office, who authored a motion that initiated talks between the agencies.

“Anyone who has taken Metro knows there is a mental health crisis on our transit system,” Hahn said in a statement.

Up to 10 mobile crisis outreach teams will operate during Metro hours, seven days a week, to de-escalate situations, her office said. The program also includes a system of “ambassadors” to help link those in need with services, as well as intervention training for 30 Metro security officers.

It is not clear when the three-year pilot program will start. Officials said they will first conduct a study to determine the areas with the highest need.

The initiative aims to minimize the use of force, incarceration and justice system involvement.

“The agreement enables us to tap additional resources to respond quickly to those in crisis with field-based mental health services, which means law enforcement is not the first responder,” Metro CEO Stephanie N. Wiggins said in a statement. “We believe this is an important tactic in our strategy to create a more comprehensive community-oriented model for ensuring the safety and security of our transit riders.”

The program comes as Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and county officials tussle over a new security contract for the Metro system. Currently Long Beach and the city of Los Angeles patrol parts of the system in their jurisdictions, but the sheriff has threatened to pull all of his deputies out of Metro if he did not get a contract that gave him full authority over the entire system.

The sheriff also last week announced a new plan called “Operation Safe Travel” in which he vowed to ramp up enforcement on homeless riders who commit crimes or harass other riders. The sheriff and the county have been at odds over how to handle violence on public transit, with Villanueva calling for tougher enforcement by police, while others—particularly in the wake of calls to defund police—advocating for a stronger social service network.

Metro, in a response to Villanueva’s announcement last week, released a statement saying it would evaluate all options to identify “the most effective path forward to create the safest and most comfortable environment possible for our customers and employees.”

Metro weighing options for how its routes will be policed after sheriff threatens to pull deputies

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Laura Anaya-Morga is a general assignment reporter for the Long Beach Post.
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