Bass orders more public safety personnel on buses, trains

Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — Responding to recent violent attacks tied to the region’s transit system, Mayor Karen Bass has ordered an “immediate surge” in public safety personnel on buses and trains to increase their visibility and deter crime.

“The spike in violent crime … that we have recently seen against operators and riders has been absolutely unacceptable,” Bass said during a news conference May 16. “And I know that all of my colleagues here today would agree.

“As chair of the board of [the Metropolitan Transportation Authority}, I directed an immediate surge of law enforcement personnel on buses and rail cars and stations,” Bass added. “Today, we are following that action with a motion to work to make Angelenos, our riders and our operators feel safe on the system.”

Bass said that motion, which will go before the MTA Board of Directors May 23, will increase the daily planned deployment of public safety personnel on buses and trains and direct public safety personnel to be physically present on buses and trains and proactively patrol areas as well.”

The motion also calls for the establishment of a “unified command” of the various law enforcement agencies who police the system — including MTA security, the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Long Beach Police Department.

It also will require that cellular service is provided in all underground rail stations, on the platforms and during transit throughout the rail system, Bass said. “The importance of this is so passengers, if they need to, get help immediately.”

The moves follow sever violent crimes connected to the system in recent weeks, including the fatal stabbing of a woman on a B Line train in the Studio City area last month and a trio of attacks this month that left three people stabbed and another struck in the chest during a robbery.

Hours after Bass’ announcement, a person was shot and killed on abus in Commerce, KCAL reported, citing information from transit officials.

Concerns about safety on the county system known as Metro have escalated in response to the highly publicized crimes, despite statistics showing an overall drop in crime tied to buses and trains over the past year.

Metro officials have wrestled in recent years over the best way to police the transit system. Three years ago — in the post-George Floyd era of calls for reductions in law enforcement spending — Metro opted to vastly expand its use of “ambassadors,” who are essentially customer service representatives positioned across the transit system to provide support and information to riders and a resource for people to report maintenance or safety issues.

According to Metro’s own website, however, the ambassadors “are not security officers and do not replace existing security personnel or law enforcement. Rather, they are an added workforce that collaborates with other Metro departments in order to maintain public safety and help make the system feel safer for our riders.”

“Nothing is more important to Metro than the safety of our employees and riders,” said Metro CEO Stephanie Wiggins. “In March, with more than 25 million riders, we had 5.22 crimes against persons per 1 million boardings, which is a 40.1% improvement year over year. 

“But our riders and employees deserve more and improving statistics aren’t comforting to the victims of crime and their families nor do they address whether people feel safe on the system,” Wiggins added. “As a result of Chair Bass’s direction, riders will see an increased visible presence of uniformed personnel on our system, which will help us enforce the rules and reduce crime.” 

Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who also sits on the Metro Board of Directors, told KNX News that the agency cannot rely on ambassadors to make riders feel safer.

“I am very much focused on bringing law enforcement back to the table,” Barger told the station. “For years, Metro has struggled with how we address safety on our lines, and I feel we’ve taken the wrong approach.”

County Supervisor Janice Hahn, vice-chair of the Metro Board, said that law enforcement visibility has to be increased to make people feel safe on the system.

“We have the responsibility to every single one of our riders and our bus operators and our train operators to make the Metro safe, and part of the solution, I believe, has to be increasing law enforcement visibility and presence on our system,” she said.

Hahn acknowledged the contracts with the Los Angeles and Long Beach police departments and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department are critical for public safety, “but for too long, these contracts have not gotten us a readily visible law enforcement presence on our system.”

“We need law enforcement riding our buses and our trains,” she said. “It does not do our riders any good if officers remain in their squad cars.”

It was unclear how much the law enforcement increase being sought by the board members would cost the transit agency.

County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, also a Metro board member, introduced a separate motion May 15 also aimed at boosting safety.

“We are looking at a 10% increase in the cost of Metro’s law enforcement contracts next year without any increase in presence,” Horvath said in a prepared statement. “This is unacceptable. We need safety personnel on every Metro bus and rail line to keep our riders safe.

“The motion I introduced calls for a cost analysis of all public safety entities that patrol the system to inform what visible presence is not only necessary, but most effective to make our system safer for everyone.

“I look forward to welcoming Sheriff (Robert) Luna, (LAPD) Chief (Dominic) Choi, and (LBPD) Chief (Wally) Hebeish to Metro, and to the difficult and necessary decisions the Metro Board must make to address this safety crisis once and for all. The future of our system depends on it,” she said.

Recent transit safety issues include a trio of violent incidents, including one May 14 when a person was robbed and assaulted in Encino on a bus near Ventura Boulevard and Balboa Avenue. Officials said a man was robbed of a cellphone and was hit in the chest. The suspect was arrested as he was walking away from the bus, and the victim was not seriously injured.

The day before, a fight erupted on a bus near West Los Feliz Road and South Central Avenue in Glendale. In that instance, the bus driver stopped the vehicle and four males exited and the fight continued on the street, leading to two of the four people being stabbed.

The two wounded people were taken to hospitals with non-life- threatening injuries, and the other two people involved were arrested, according to Metro. Several media reports indicated that the altercation began when three juvenile suspects tried to steal a backpack from a teenage boy.

About two hours after that altercation, a woman was stabbed at the Metro C (Green) Line Vermont/Athens station at South Vermont Avenue and the Glenn Anderson (105) Freeway. The suspect fled by boarding a westbound train, authorities said. The victim was reported to have been stabbed in an arm.

On April 29, the MTA board approved an emergency procurement declaration to speed up acquisition and installation of protective barriers for drivers on about 2,000 buses due to the “sudden, unexpected increased severity of assaults on operators.”

The board also pushed for a review of other potential safety improvements, including an examination of measures such as securing all transit station entrances and exits, increasing security cameras on the system and making use of facial recognition technology.

Some bus drivers recently staged a “sick out” in protest of recent attacks on drivers.