Los Angeles County Metro is going to take a deeper look at what creating a new police force would look like as questions swirl over whether the police agencies currently paid to patrol the agency’s bus and rail lines are actually doing the job.
Metro’s board of directors asked for the report in March to assess what creating its own department would look like after multiple members expressed frustration with the job the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, along with the Los Angeles and Long Beach police departments, have performed so far. Metro currently has a $916 million contract with the three agencies to police its network.
A report given to Metro’s Executive Management Committee Thursday morning suggested that switching to an in-house police model could ensure that Metro knows where officers are at all times, that officers are familiar with the system, that they’re aligned with Metro’s culture—and it could save tens of millions of dollars annually.
The annual budget Metro has for the three law enforcement agencies is about $173 million, but a model presented to the committee showed an in-house department could cost about $135 million per year. The theoretical model would have about 50 fewer police officers, but Metro officials said it would have greater coverage because they wouldn’t be deployed in pairs, which is the case with some contracted officers.
Committee members approved a motion for an implementation plan to be presented to the full board in January. While the Executive Management Committee only represents a few members of the full Metro board, Chair Ara Najarian said all offices were involved in the process.
“We’re not a bunch of lone cowboys out there charging full steam ahead without the whole group,” Najarian said.
Before the vote, there was some disagreement over the wording of the request and the perception it might give, with some members saying it gave the appearance the board was ready to create its own police force.
Janice Hahn, a member of the Metro board who also represents Long Beach on the LA County Board of Supervisors, asked for “implementation plan” to be taken out of the wording and for outreach to the community and more incremental updates to be given to the board before a full plan was drafted.
Last month, Hahn called for answers after a woman was beaten on the A Line in Long Beach and officers allegedly took several minutes to respond to the call. Hahn asked where officers or Metro’s other security team members were while the woman was allegedly beaten across multiple transit stops.
In April, a man was stabbed to death on a Metro train as it made its way to the Downtown Long Beach 1st Street platform.
Metro staff have said that the police agencies have resisted being told what to do by a “bus agency” and that switching to an in-house model would allow Metro to know where their officers are and what they’re doing.
The in-house model could increase response times, Gina Osborn, Metro’s chief safety officer said.
Its current model requires Metro to verify if police and deputies are on trains or platforms by comparing security footage to reports filed by the individual officers.
Switching to an in-house model could also deploy officers who are more knowledgeable about the system. A report conducted by Metro said that while sheriff’s deputies are dedicated to the Metro routes, all of the LAPD and some of LBPD officers are chosen at random and their services are billed as overtime.
One of the biggest startup costs—vehicles, space and equipment—that Metro could have to pay if it did create its own force could largely be avoided, staff told the committee Thursday, because Metro already provides those things to the contracted agencies.
The costs to continue its contracts with the three agencies were called “unsustainable” in a report shared Thursday. The previous five-year contract that started in 2017 was for $646.6 million. The most recent procurement process showed a bid valued at $1.48 billion for the five-year period running through 2029.
The report said that the expected average annual increase under an in-house model would be about 5%.
Starting up a new force would take years, so Metro will likely have to enter into a new contract regardless of whether it moves forward with creating its own internal police force.
The full Metro board is scheduled to meet June 22.