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New Metro Contract Could Be First Step to Effective, Responsible Policing

Los Angeles County Sheriff on board a Metro bus. Photo by Dana Gabbard

At its December 10, 2016 meeting Southern California Transit Advocates took a position in support of the staff recommendation on Metro's transit policing contract which is being heard at today’s board meeting.

The vote by the Metro board of directors at its December 1, 2016 meeting to delay awarding the policing contract prompted me to urge our members to take this position. My chief concern was that an op-ed by Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell appeared to signal the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) was going to resist the Metro staff recommendation of a multi-agency law enforcement services contract.

That the current LASD policing arrangement is not working has been documented by numerous reports including the 2008 Sid Heal report, 2014 Bazilio Cobb Associated audit, a 2014 American Public Transit Association peer review and a 2015 review by BCA Watson Rice LLP. In 2014 SBLA posted articles by myself and Joe Linton that summarized this long troubled situation.

Thankfully the board report being considered at today’s Metro Board meeting reflects LASD’s cooperation with the new multi-agency policing strategy. I guess their attempt to continue the status quo was not flying and they decided to live with having a portion of the new contract.

This victory is bittersweet. My long held opinion has been the optimal solution would be re-establishing the Metro Police Department but I think this 2004 Metro staff report by outlining what that would entail makes it clear that is impractical. Back in 1997 when the department was dissolved in favor of the LASD/LAPD partnership the late James Cragin, a Gardena city councilmember then on the Metro Board, stated while the policing change was being discussed that once the Department was disbanded it would probably be impossible to ever bring it back. And that certainly has proved to be the case.

Transit policing has also been the subject of much controversy and criticism. Damien Newton spoke of intimidation in this 2013 post. Brian Addison recently considered issues surrounding the Blue Line and safety. Yesterday, Sahra Sulaiman detailed Blue Line Sheriff harassment calling it criminalization of poverty. Ed Pilolla, editor of the PV News, recently shared an eye witness account of an incident on Metro’s route 232 that includes an eventual response by LASD. In November 2016 the Labor Community Strategy Center filed a civil rights complaint against Metro’s policing with the federal government.

My hope is that this new contract is, at least, a first step toward effective responsible policing. A friend of mine likes to joke that sheriff deputies liked to station themselves at rail stations based on the proximity to a Starbucks. For the enormous amounts of money Metro spends on transit policing, we, as passengers and taxpayers, deserve better.

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