LA Metro is moving forward with a plan to establish its own police force

LA Metro is moving forward with a plan to establish its own police force

LA Metro is moving forward with a plan to establish its own police force

LAPD officers patrol Union Station Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, in Los Angeles.  (Getty Images)

LAPD officers patrol Union Station Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, in Los Angeles. (Getty Images)

More than a year after the LA Metro board approved a plan to explore creating its own transit police force, board members have moved forward with a plan to make it a reality.

During Thursday’s regularly scheduled board meeting, the board was presented with possible plans related to the creation of a new internal public safety department.

After hours of public comment and statements from leaders of the three law enforcement agencies currently contracted to provide public safety services on LA Metro’s trains and buses, the board decided it was best to begin the long construction process of a new police force from scratch. and concluding or amending its existing contracts with regional law enforcement partners.

The vote was passed unanimously with 10 affirmatives; several Metro board members were absent.

LA Metro will now proceed with a five-year phased transition to establish a “Community Transit Public Safety Department.”

The next steps for establishing the TCPSD include creating a “transition team” made up of experts in various public safety issues, including police, mental health social services and human resources.

LA Metro will also have to work with CalPERS, which administers pension benefits for state employees, and begin the process of recruiting officers to staff the new police force.

The decision to build its own police force is historic and ambitious, but not unprecedented in Los Angeles or other major metropolitan areas.

The move aligns LA with other regions that employ their own transit police, including the Bay Area, Massachusetts and Washington, DC

Two officers from the Southern California Rapid Transit District are shown in this undated photo shared by LA Metro.
Two Southern California Rapid Transit District officers are shown in this undated photo shared by LA Metro.

LA Metro had its own version of transit police between 1978 and 1997, which was created due to an increase in violent crime in the transit system, particularly against bus operators.

Sound familiar?

The Southern California Rapid Transit District operated a police force of more than 500 officers at its peak, making it the tenth largest law enforcement agency in California and the largest transit police force in the nation.

The agency was eventually merged with the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in a cost-cutting — and political — move, according to India Mandelkern, a writer for the online blog Metro The Source.

Those law enforcement agencies, plus the Long Beach Police Department, continue to police the system today, although their effectiveness compared to their multimillion-dollar contracts has been questioned.

Officers on patrol at a Los Angeles County subway station.  (KTLA)
Officers patrol a subway station in Los Angeles County on May 23, 2024. (KTLA)

A 2023 audit by the Office of the Inspector General found that many law enforcement officers tasked with patrolling transit stations, trains and buses spent the vast majority of their time away from those areas and instead spent their spent most of the time in their vehicles. That audit also found that more than half of transit-related 911 calls were answered by officers not assigned to the subway system.

Acting LAPD Chief Dominic Choi, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna and LBPD Chief Wally Hebeish attended Thursday’s meeting to answer questions from board members and defend the performance of law enforcement officers assigned to Metro.

“We can’t be everywhere,” Luna said, referring to the size of Metro’s service area. “We do everything we can to keep people safe and we have pretty good response times.”

Sheriff Luna went on to say that he believes building a new law enforcement agency from scratch is risky with major sporting events, including the 2026 FIFA World Cup, 2027 Super Bowl, and 2028 Olympics and Paralympics taking place in the coming years .

“This is not the time to experiment with new projects,” he said. “Public safety is too important for that. “

While Metro officials criticized the performance of contracted law enforcement throughout the transit system, those large law enforcement contracts continued to be extended and renewed.

This has led many activists to call for the revival of a dedicated transit police force in hopes that it will allow LA Metro to better manage safety and increase the quality of life for riders and drivers.

In 2024, many of the challenges from previous years that led to the creation of a domestic police force—violent crime against passengers and transit operators—remain. But new problems affecting LA Metro include the rise of deadly narcotics like fentanyl and a significantly larger homeless population, Mandelkern writes.

Thursday’s decision to give him another try is the first step in what is likely to be a long and possibly contentious process.