A recent vote to uphold the Los Angeles Police Department’s contract with the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority sparked controversy surrounding police funding, over policing and minority passenger safety.
LAPD had a five-year contract with Metro, which started in February 2017. The L.A. City Council retroactively voted, with a 10-2 margin, to extend that contract over the last six months of 2022. Since it was done retroactively, the vote would have left over a $50 million pit in the city budget if it had not been approved.
Since the contract has been in effect for over five years, critics and supporters alike have been able to evaluate the results.
Scarlett De Leon, Campaigns Director with ACT-LA and one of the critics of the contract, questioned whether spending so much money to have LAPD police buses and trains of the L.A. Metro system has a positive effect.
“[The contract] was a waste of taxpayer dollars,” De Leon said. “We’re not seeing reports of folks feeling safer on the [Metro] system and actually quite the opposite. So we’re calling for Metro to really use their funds for community safety alternatives … instead of continuing spending this policing contract that not only has been wasteful but actually has caused real harm to our communities.”
De Leon argued the $54 million that went to LAPD to police public transportation could have gone to social services such as mental health and outreach. Metro recently started a pilot program of 300 transit ambassadors to create a feeling of safety in numbers and help with customer service. The unarmed ambassadors are also supposed to help with de-escalation and maintenance. De Leon wishes Metro would have spent that $54 million to increase the number of ambassadors.
“There is an ecosystem of services that can create actual safety in the system and also feelings of safety,” De Leon said.
According to De Leon, many people of color do not feel comfortable or safe with a police presence. She found that many of the people she interviewed would feel safer “having lights at bus stops than having police presence.”
De Leon found that many of the arguments in support of police presence on public transportation are faulty or misinformed.
One such argument is that recent reports show an increase in crime on the Metro, meaning public transportation needs more police. De Leon says this argument is misleading, since it is a comparison of statistics taken during COVID-19 when there were significantly less riders.
Arguments in favor for more policing also lie within an increase in overdoses on public transportation or at public transit stations. De Leon, again, says this argument is faulty.
“We know that getting to the root of problems is really the best way to tackle some of these issues,” De Leon said. “At the last Metro board meeting, folks were talking about an increase of overdoses that have happened on the system. And I think one of the board members, I believe Mayor Bass, said something that was extremely important to remember, which is that this is a public health issue.”
De Leon emphasized the way to solve this public health issue is not by policing.
“We know social services work and therefore we are calling for us to continue focusing and expanding those and really focus on the root causes so we can have a safer system,” De Leon said.
However, some people still would feel better having police presence on the metro.
Thomas Dudek, who often uses public transportation to get to Santa Monica to go surfing, does not feel “too secure” on the metro.
“I think police officers are the best idea and the best solution for the problem,” Dudek said. “I think it can help with harassment and the homeless people that are using public transportation.”
Dudek said he has never been a victim of harassment or a crime on the Metro, but is worried about the recent reports of an uptick of crimes on public transportation.
While Lucas Rune — also a Metro regular — says he would feel comfortable with having police presence on the Metro, he thinks alternative methods to police officers for Metro safety would work as well.
“I think unarmed ambassadors could be a good way to make it safer,” Rune said. “I think they could try switching to an alternative approach since police officers are a scarce resource and they might be needed at other places more.”
Metro will now have to weigh all of the arguments and go into another contract with LAPD, or use alternative methods to look after the public transportation system.