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Metro Approves Transit Policing Contract Extension, While Setting Up Some Shift to Alternatives

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Yesterday, the Metro board approved a staff proposal to extend the agency's transit policing contract. Metro's current five-year multiagency (LAPD, L.A. County Sheriff's Department, Long Beach PD) contract is due to end in June 2022. The new contract extension is relatively short - up to one year. It joins other Metro approvals that queue up a partial shift of resources away from armed law enforcement and toward a community safety approach, expected to expand usage of transit ambassadors, mental health services, and outreach to the unhoused.

The policing contract extension item [staff report] included multiple components:

    • approving $75 million to cover transit policing cost overruns, allowing for the current contract to not run out of funding before next June
    • approving a 6-month extension of the contract, pushing its terminus back to December 2022
    • approving the option for a second 6-month extension from December 2022 to June 2023, if needed

The policing contract extension became highly politicized in past weeks, with L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva plying falsehoods to criticize Metro staff, board, and committee leadership, and later asserting that LASD should be the sole policing agency on Metro.

Metro is in the midst of a process aimed at reimagining public safety on its transit system. In June 2020, the board voted to form a Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) to recommend changes to its next policing contract. Metro law enforcement leadership has dragged its heels on the PSAC process, forcing the board into the position of reluctantly approving the one-year extension.

To a large extent, yesterday's contract extension approval represents a capitulation to continuing a problematic policing status quo at a time when nearly all of Metro's leadership are supportive of policing reforms. For this reason, two of the most progressive boardmembers - County Supervisor Holly Mitchell and City Councilmember Mike Bonin - abstained from approving the contract extension.

Bonin and Mitchell have been leading the Metro board's push to reimagine public safety. They were co-authors of a motion, also approved yesterday, that keeps Metro on track to embed new public safety priorities in the Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget. That motion was approved, despite an abstention from Boardmember and Glendale City Councilmember Ara Najarian, who spoke positively of the sheriff and critically of PSAC and proposed unarmed transit ambassadors.

For real-time blow-by-blow coverage of this item at yesterday's board meeting, see also SBLA's Twitter thread.

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