The full Los Angeles County Metro Board of Directors will be presented with an implementation plan for potentially creating its own police force in January after its members voted nearly unanimously Thursday to move forward with drafting the proposal.
The vote comes after months of frustration with the law enforcement agencies Metro currently contracts with to patrol its bus and train network in the region. Metro has a $916 million contract in place with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Long Beach Police Department, and it’s in the process of negotiating an extension.
However, increased reports of crimes and complaints that officers and deputies may not be providing a presence at platforms, buses and trains led some members of the Metro board to call for an examination of what it would look like for the agency to create its own police force, something it last had in the 1990s.
Some appear more willing than others to actually move forward with its creation.
“I will tell you, I have never understood how you have three different agencies and three different ways of policing a line,” said LA Mayor Karen Bass, who serves on the board of directors.
Bass said she was excited about the possibility of doing something new to address the issues on Metro’s system.
Director Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker, meanwhile, said it could be an opportunity to build a model from the start if Metro were to create its own force, adding that its officers would be “a group that is chosen and not just there for overtime.”
While Long Beach has dedicated officers that serve the Metro A Line in the city, LAPD officers service the line on overtime.
Metro staff highlighted creating a culture and covering more ground with slightly fewer officers as potential upsides to creating its own force because officers would be deployed by themselves rather than with a partner, something that is common with the current contract in place.
The price could also be a benefit for Metro creating its own police force. A staff analysis said that an in-house model could cost as little as $135 million per year, compared to the $173 million the agency has budgeted this year for law enforcement.
That figure is expected to grow in the contract that is currently being negotiated, with the five-year value of the contract being nearly $1.5 billion through 2029, something that Metro staff has called an unsustainable increase in cost. For Long Beach, the contract currently pays for 29 positions, including 18 patrol officers.
Metro staff said that two of the three agencies have pledged to help it transition to its own police force if that’s the direction the board ultimately decided to go.
Directors are expected to get an update on the plan in November, and some were careful to say this was not a done deal. Director Kathryn Barger said the board had a responsibility to look at best practices, and that’s why she was supporting it.
“This is not a fait accompli,” Barger said Thursday.
Members of the public were mixed on the board’s vote, with some saying that Metro should divest from having police as part of its security plan, which also includes unarmed transit ambassadors and security guards.
Others said that Metro needs to beef up its police presence to provide the safety and security that is not currently present aboard its network.
For the second time in a month, a Metro bus driver was stabbed while on the job. The stabbing happened Thursday, around the time that the board was discussing the implementation plan for its own police force.
A rider was also stabbed to death in April while riding the A Line in Downtown Long Beach, and in May, a woman was attacked while riding the A Line north of Downtown, prompting Director Janice Hahn to make a public call for answers for why it took so long for police to respond.
Hahn had voiced apprehension about moving forward with the implementation plan during a committee meeting earlier this month and abstained from the vote to move forward Thursday.
“We’ve done this before,” Hahn said of Metro having its own force, and she questioned what might change this time to improve the perception of safety on its system.