Although most riders use Metro every day without incident, we know, and have heard from you, that there are fears and concerns we need to address. As the LA Times and others have reported, our region is suffering from an opioid addiction crisis – and the despondency and deaths it causes. Those crises are making it much more difficult for us to do our job: to get people where they need to go comfortably and safely.
Our position is simple and clear: there should be no open use of illegal drugs on the system. And there should be absolutely no tolerance for assaults on riders, our operators, or any other crimes on our system.
Our riders deserve better.
We are tackling these and other problems at different levels. This includes an enforcement campaign that started in February to reduce illegal drug use on our system. Since it began, the LAPD and LASD have made 205 drug-related arrests and reported incidents of illegal drug use have declined.
No complex societal issue can be solved overnight. But it’s important for us to tell you about the steps we’re taking today, and as we roll out new programs, we’ll let you know. Below is part of what we’re doing.
Public Safety Proposals
This month, Metro’s Board of Directors will consider a package of four important items that are crucial to our ongoing work to improve public safety on our system for everyone.
The first two items are Bias-Free Policing and Public Safety Analytics policies and a revision to the Customer Code of Conduct – they serve as a foundation for the kind of fair and equitable policing we want on our system.
The other two items advance our approach to public safety, which we have been in the process of evolving over the last two years. First, we recommend hiring 48 additional Metro Transit Security Officers (TSOs) dedicated to keeping bus operators and riders safe. Metro staff also recommends extending our current law enforcement contracts as we explore an in-house police department model.
Before we dive into the details of the four items going to the Board, we’d like to offer some broader context. Over the last two years, we have been working on a number of public safety improvements. We created a Public Safety Advisory Committee made up of riders, community members and experts who give Metro input on ways to improve public safety on the system. The second cohort of that committee was seated last month and will continue that important work.
That The PSAC helped develop our Public Safety Mission and Values Statements that were adopted by the Board in December 2021 and state that all riders are entitled to a safe, dignified and human experience on Metro.
With that guiding vision, we’re now putting the particulars of our public safety plan in place with a focus on improving security, customer care and cleanliness. This plan includes our Metro Ambassador pilot, increased enforcement of the Code of Conduct and prohibition of illegal drug use on buses and trains, and the expansion of our homeless outreach teams who connect individuals to needed services. We also are piloting intervention tactics to improve conditions at the Westlake/MacArthur Park Station that include improved lighting and cameras and adding cleaning and security staff. If successful, this will inform approaches to other stations.
Proposals Going to the Board
These four public safety proposals will be discussed at Board committees this week before going to the full Board at its meeting on Thursday, March 23, at 10 a.m. Below is a summary of each item along with links to Metro staff reports or other supporting materials:
Bias-Free Policing and Public Safety Data Analytics policies
The Board will consider approving new Bias-Free Policing and Public Safety Data Analytics policies. The Board approved a motion last year asking Metro to develop both policies for their review.
These policies are meant to set clear expectations and standards to help us eliminate potential bias in the way our system is patrolled. Previously, Metro found evidence that suggested racial bias might have been a factor in citations given to riders. Metro’s goal is clear – to eliminate any form of bias against our riders.
The Bias-Free Policing policy seeks to accomplish this goal through increased training and robust tracking of Metro’s progress to reduce the number of complaints filed against our safety and security staff team and partners. We also want to lower the disproportionate number of citations issued to members of marginalized communities.
The Public Safety Data Analytics policy aims to remove bias from public safety data and how it is used to deploy resources. We want to ensure our data is high-quality and is collected in a bias-free way.
Through the adoption of these policies, Metro will build an online dashboard with public safety statistics and outcomes to help us be accountable and transparent to the public.
Both policies were developed with input from PSAC, academic institutions, internal departments and external stakeholders to ensure they addressed concerns regarding policing across the system.
The Metro staff report on this item — which includes both new policies — is here. The Board Committee will consider the item in the Operations, Safety and Customer Experience Committee on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. The livestream link will be here when the meeting begins.
Revised Code of Conduct
The Board will also consider approving a revised Metro Code of Conduct that uses clearer, more user-friendly language and is more consistent with the agency’s Public Safety Mission and Values statements.
The three big changes to the Code are:
- Removing any language that could be construed as targeting specific communities.
- Making the language more customer friendly, which means it’s easier to understand and clearly describes what conduct we expect.
- Removing any items that are already fully covered under the existing Penal Code.
We may even change the name from Code of Conduct to something more rider friendly. Here’s an example of the draft Code:
The staff report — which includes the existing Code of Conduct and proposed revision — is here. The item will be considered in the Board’s Operations, Safety and Customer Experience Committee on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. The livestream link will be here when the meeting begins.
Additional Metro Transit Security Officers
The Board will consider approving funding for Metro to hire 48 additional Metro Transit Security Officers (TSOs) to ride and patrol our bus system and to help improve safety for bus riders and bus operators.
The TSOs are part of Metro’s own security team. They are charged with enforcing our Code of Conduct. We currently have 213 TSOs on staff.
The 48 new TSOs will be dedicated to our bus system, which has 119 routes that currently carry more than 75 percent of our riders. There were 158 assaults on our bus operators in 2022 — an increase from 115 in 2021. The assaults are a serious safety risk for our employees and riders.
The Metro staff report on this item is here. The item will be heard in the Operations, Safety and Customer Experience Committee on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. The livestream link will be here when the meeting begins.
Law Enforcement Contracts
The Board also will consider a staff recommendation to continue Metro’s existing law enforcement contracts with the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the Long Beach Police Department for up to three more years while Metro explores and tests new approaches to public safety that are consistent with our Public Safety Mission and Values Statement.
Metro’s current law enforcement contract went into effect in mid-2017 for five years and was extended through June 2023 to give the agency time to issue a procurement for a new law enforcement contract. Four local police agencies bid on the new contract, but two of the four proposers asked for exceptions to the terms of the contract. Those exceptions, we believe, would result in inconsistent policing across the system and conflicted with our Public Safety Mission and Values statements. Most notably, we asked for more transparency from our partners and to have a greater say in how, when and where officers are deployed on the system.
Ultimately, Metro staff believes it is in the best interest of Metro, our employees and our customers to modify the existing contracts to require compliance with the Bias-Free Policing and Public Safety Analytics policies and extend the contracts annually for up to three additional years, rather than award new contracts. We would supplement this law enforcement presence with a variety of other interventions (like transit security officers and dedicated bus riding teams) so that we can deploy the right personnel to the right issue.
As part of this item, Metro staff are also recommending that Metro study the possibility of creating its own police force. Eight of the 10 largest transit agencies in the United States have their own police departments and we believe our riders would be better served under this model. Metro had its own police force in its early days before choosing to contract with law enforcement agencies.
The Metro staff report on this item is here. The item will be heard in the Board’s Executive Management Committee on Thursday at 9 a.m. (livestream link here) and in the Operations, Safety and Customer Experience Committee on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. (livestream link here).
Again, all four board reports build on Metro’s work over the last year to put our new public safety plan into action. In contrast to Metro’s previous approach, this plan uses proactive response, strategic enforcement and equitable rule compliance. It is data-driven and flexible, recognizes that collaboration is key to maintaining public safety (back to the three pillars of security, customer care and cleanliness), and is transparent. We know we have a lot of work to do. But this is progress.
So, let’s tackle some questions:
Why are you spending any money on law enforcement?
Unfortunately, crime does occasionally occur on our system. Transit doesn’t operate in a bubble, and we need to have law enforcement to help prevent crime and respond to it.
Metro’s law enforcement partners, complemented by other staff such as the Metro Ambassadors — are an important part of ensuring that Metro riders and employees feel safe and are safe on the system. Additionally, law enforcement works with our Emergency Operations Center by sharing intelligence and providing support to our anti-terrorism work. We cannot ignore the fact that terrorism is a very real concern in the modern world.
Law enforcement also collaborates with our Inspector General to obtain exclusion orders for repeat offenders, and supports special initiatives to address issues (e.g., drug use enforcement, MacArthur Park station improvements, trespassing in station ancillary areas) that are detrimental to our service and pose safety threats to riders and employees. It’s important to note that 68 percent of riders surveyed in 2021 told us they wanted to see more armed security and law enforcement staff on the system.
Is this your way of defunding the police?
Absolutely not. We know law enforcement has an important role to play in ensuring public safety on the Metro system.
Why are you spending any money at all on Metro Ambassadors?
That same survey found that 76 percent of Metro riders also wanted to see an unarmed presence on the Metro system. Most people, according to our surveys, wanted a team approach with security officers, law enforcement AND un-armed staff (such as the Metro Ambassadors) on the Metro system.
We agree. Our Public Safety Plan calls for the use of all three. The Metro Ambassadors support our riders and their presence makes many feel safer. They connect riders to resources they might need, and importantly they report issues they see. Their reporting helps Metro send the right response to address an issue – be it crisis intervention teams, security, law enforcement or cleaning crews.
Why do you think your own police force would be better than working with law enforcement?
We haven’t yet made that determination. But what we do know is the current approach isn’t working well enough.
Should the Board approve the staff recommendation, we will conduct a feasibility study, which we will bring back to the Board in April. We are committed to finding a solution that will keep our employees and riders safe and stay true to our Public Safety Mission and Values Statements. Having our own police force may allow us to deploy our resources more quickly based upon customer and employee comments and reports.