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How to control LA buses and trains sparks council debate

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday voted to extend the LAPD’s contract to patrol subway buses and trains, sparking a new debate over rising crime in the region’s transit system and pressure to find alternatives to the police.

In a 10-2 vote, the board retroactively approved a six-month contract extension for Metro Security Services, also known as the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The extension, which covered the last six months of 2022, increased the Metro’s overall contract size by an additional $54 million, according to a report submitted to the board.

Council members Eunisses Hernandez and Hugo Soto-Martinez cast both dissenting votes, saying Metro should invest more money in outreach workers, unarmed response teams and “life support systems.” .

Hernandez, who represents areas such as Mt. Washington, Highland Park and Lincoln Heights, called the contract extension an “inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars,” saying it lacked sufficient oversight. She also warned that the deployment of police would lead to harassment of black passengers and public transport users who are not accommodated.

“The millions we put into this deal didn’t make us safer and didn’t make the train stations in my district safer,” said Hernandez, a self-proclaimed law enforcement and prison abolitionist.

Council member Traci Park, who represents coastal neighborhoods, defended the contract extension, noting that bus and train riders faced a 24% increase in serious crime on Metro’s system last year. . An average of 14 bus drivers were assaulted each month last year – working conditions “unacceptable by any standard”, Park said.

“Personally, I’m not going to sit idly by while people are victimized,” she said.

Wednesday’s debate served as a taste of the heated deliberations expected in the coming months on subway safety. Drug use on the transit system is rampant, with fatal drug overdoses increasing sharply. Boardings on Metro rail lines, which have seen a major expansion, remain at 62% of pre-pandemic levels last year.

In this context, Metro’s 13-member board will have to decide whether to enter into a new contract with the LAPD or find other strategies to improve security. Some transit advocates are pushing the council to abandon law enforcement in favor of unarmed ambassadors, social workers, elevator attendants and adding sidewalk vendors to rail platforms.

Soto-Martinez and Hernandez called on their colleagues to reject the contract extension. But board member Nithya Raman resisted that idea, noting that LAPD officers have already worked the hours listed in the contract extension — work requested by Metro.

“Voting no on this item today means the city would end up being liable for payments that have already been made to police officers who provided these services to Metro,” she said.

The LAPD officers’ union released a more accurate assessment, saying rejecting the contract would have blown a “$50 million hole” in the city’s budget. “We are scratching our heads wondering why two board members are so embittered at the police that they would say no to $50 million,” union spokesman Tom Saggau said.

Extending Metro’s contract wasn’t the only split vote in Wednesday’s meeting.

Soto-Martinez, who represents neighborhoods such as Hollywood, Glassell Park and Windsor Square, spoke out against the council’s plan to accept nearly $43,000 in county funding to pay for an upcoming gun buy-back event in city ​​fire – in part because it will be staffed by police. .

Council member Tim McOsker defended the event, which is scheduled for Saturday in Wilmington, saying it would allow people who are no longer comfortable having a gun in their homes to turn in that gun. Each gun returned will not go off in a home accident or be stolen and then used in a crime, McOsker said.

Soto-Martinez said that while he’s happy to see the guns taken off the streets, he remains concerned that officers are set to receive more than $38,000 in overtime at the event. He also wondered if it was necessary for the LAPD to be involved.

“We just had a discussion about Metro. We can see how our taxpayers’ money is being spent,” he said. “Here we are again, the same problems are presented to us.”

The grant money was approved by a vote of 10 to 2. Hernandez joined Soto-Martinez in voting no.

Los Angeles Times

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