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Transit officials plan steps to quell bus violence

Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — County transportation officials are calling for an increase in law enforcement patrols and visibility on buses and trains following an increase in violent crimes on public transit systems.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, who chairs the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors, said she and other board members will take steps to curb the violence that has occurred at bus stops and train stations in recent weeks.

The incidents include the fatal stabbing of a woman on a B Line train in the Studio City area last month and a trio of attacks in the past week that left three people stabbed and another struck in the chest during a robbery.

“As chair of the board, I am right now working with my colleagues — the other members of the board of directors — on a motion that we’ll put forward at the next meeting, which is next week, that will be calling for an increase of patrols, increased visibility, on the buses and the trains,” Bass told reporters May 15.

The next MTA board meeting is May 23. 

Concerns about safety on the transit system have escalated in recent weeks, despite statistics showing an overall drop in crime tied to buses and trains over the past year.

“Ridership is up almost to pre-pandemic levels and things have been going — I mean, there had been an issue with crime, but not the type of violent crime that we’ve seen over the last couple of months,” Bass said.

“Clearly there is a spike. Clearly we will aggressively address that. So we are finalizing a motion right now. We’ll probably make the motion public well before the meeting next week. So stay tuned in the next day or so we’ll have that done.”

No other specifics about the proposal were provided.

MTA officials have wrestled in recent years over the best way to police the transit system. The agency has generally partnered with the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Long Beach Police Department to police the system. But three years ago — in the post-George Floyd era of calls for reductions in law enforcement spending — the MTA 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 the MTA 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 departments in order to maintain public safety and help make the system feel safer for our riders.”

County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who also sits on the MTA Board of Directors, told KNX News May 15 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, [the MTA] has struggled with how we address safety on our lines, and I feel we’ve taken the wrong approach.”

Barger told KNX she has spoken to ambassadors, and “they tell me that law enforcement is an important partner with them in order for them to do their job. We need to undo what was done, and that is basically changing the policies as it relates to law enforcement’s role on our transit system and let them get back to being a deterrent and then capturing those that are committing the crimes.”

Safety issues on transit were highlighted by a trio of violent incidents, the most recent of which occurred May 14 when a person was robbed and assaulted aboard a bus in the Encino area. That attack occurred shortly after 2 p.m. near Ventura Boulevard and Balboa Avenue. 

Officials said a man was robbed of a cell phone 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.

At about 7:05 p.m. May 13, 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 the MTA.

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 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.

The MTA Board of Directors on April 29 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.”

Barger noted to KNX, however, that such a move does nothing to protect bus riders.

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.

       
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