Sheriff Condemns Effort to Defund LA Transit Police

By Jill McLaughlin
Jill McLaughlin
Jill McLaughlin
November 17, 2021 Updated: November 18, 2021

The Los Angeles County sheriff called the effort by the Los Angeles-area Metro Board’s police advisory committee to remove law enforcement from public transit a “scary proposition” on Nov. 17.

The committee unanimously recommended canceling Metro’s policing contracts, at a meeting on Nov. 3.

The agency contracts with the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and the Long Beach Police each year to provide law enforcement services on its trains and buses.

The group recommended shifting all armed policing to local agencies as part of an effort to reduce armed law enforcement.

If approved, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said transit riders would have to rely on the services of local law enforcement to deal with rapes, murders, and assaults that occur on the system.

“That is a scary proposition for anyone who could be a potential victim of crime or in need of urgent law enforcement service,” Villanueva told reporters during a press conference on Nov. 17. “The callous disregard for the safety of passengers is alarming.”

Villanueva pointed to several specific instances of sexual assaults, violent crime, assaults on elderly riders, stabbings, and the recent murder of a woman on the Metro Red Line at the Hollywood and Vine station in October.

“This is the level of carnage that is occurring on the trains,” Villanueva said.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s 1,433-mile service area includes 93 rail stations and about 14,000 bus stops.

The Los Angeles-area transit system receives the fourth-highest number of crime reports in the nation, behind New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, Villanueva said.

Chief Gene Harris, president of the Los Angeles Police Chiefs Association, called the decision a “looming disaster.”

He wanted to pass along information to the public about the decision.

“We might as well imagine the carnage that’s going to ensue,” Harris said during the press conference.

The sheriff’s department supervisor in charge of transit policing said it wasn’t in the public’s best interest to defund the transit police.

The group most adversely affected by the decision would be the underserved community, said Chief Jack Ewell, of the sheriff’s Special Operations Division.

“We want to work together to ensure that the public that is riding the transit is kept safe,” Ewell said.

Metro decided to give an additional $36 million to law enforcement this year to aid a spike in crime. The funding boost still left law enforcement with $111 million less than was originally proposed for the year. This year’s funding is nearly $682 million.

The committee’s purpose is to develop a “community-based approach to public safety on the transit system,” according to its webpage. To do this, they plan to move resources from armed law enforcement by funding a transit ambassador program with staff at Metro facilities and on Metro vehicles.

The committee also plans to find alternatives to armed law enforcement response to nonviolent crimes and code-of-conduct violations, develop new programs, and expand outreach and services for the homeless, among taking other actions.

The Metro Board is expected to consider the recommendation at its 10 a.m. meeting on Dec. 2.