Los Angeles County Metro will take a deeper look at what the creation of a new police force would look like as questions swirl over whether the police offices currently paid to patrol the agency’s bus and rail lines are actually doing the job .
Metro’s board asked for the report in March to assess what creating its own department would look like after several members expressed frustration with the work the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, along with the Los Angeles and Long Beach police departments, has been doing so far . Metro currently has a $916 million contract with the three agencies to oversee its network.
A report given to Metro’s executive board Thursday morning suggested that a shift to an internal policing model could ensure that Metro knows where officers are at all times, that officers are familiar with the system, that they are aligned with Metro’s culture — and it can save tens of millions of dollars annually.
Metro’s annual budget for the three law enforcement agencies is about $173 million, but a model presented to the committee showed an in-house department could cost about $135 million a year. The theoretical model would have about 50 fewer police officers, but Metro officials said it would have greater coverage because they would not be deployed in pairs, as is the case with some contracted officers.
Committee members approved a proposal for an implementation plan to be presented to the full board in January. While the Executive Management Committee represents only a few members of the Metro board, Chairman Ara Najarian said all offices were involved in the process.
“We’re not a bunch of lone cowboys out there going full steam ahead without the whole group,” Najarian said.
Before the vote, there was some disagreement about the wording of the request and the perception it might give, with some members saying it gave the appearance the board was ready to create its own police force.
Janice Hahn, a member of the Metro board who also represents Long Beach on the LA County Board of Supervisors, asked that the “implementation plan” be removed from the wording and for community outreach and more incremental updates to the board before a full plan was drawn up.
Last month, Hahn asked for a response after a woman was beaten on the A Line in Long Beach, and officers reportedly took several minutes to respond to the call. Hahn asked where officers or Metro’s other security team members were while the woman was allegedly beaten across several transit stops.
In April, a man was stabbed to death on a subway train as it made its way to the Downtown Long Beach 1st Street platform.
Metro staff have said police agencies have resisted being told what to do by a “bus agency,” and switching to an internal model would allow Metro to know where its officers are and what they’re doing.
The internal model can increase response times, said Gina Osborn, Metro’s chief security officer.
Its current model requires Metro to verify whether police and deputies are on trains or platforms by comparing security footage with reports filed by individual officers.
Shifting to an in-house model could also deploy officers who are more knowledgeable about the system. A report conducted by Metro said that while sheriff’s deputies are dedicated to the Metro routes, all of the LAPD and some of the LBPD officers are chosen at random and their services are billed as overtime.
One of the biggest start-up costs — vehicles, space and equipment — that Metro might have to pay if it created its own force could be largely avoided, staff told the committee Thursday, because Metro already provides those things to the contracted agencies.
The cost of continuing its contracts with the three agencies was called “unsustainable” in a report shared Thursday. The previous five-year contract, which started in 2017, was for $646.6 million. The most recent procurement process showed a bid worth $1.48 billion for the five-year period running through 2029.
The report said the expected average annual increase under an internal model would be around 5%.
Starting a new force would take years, so Metro will likely have to enter into a new contract regardless of whether it goes ahead with creating its own internal police force.
The full Metro board is scheduled to meet on June 22.
Hahn is calling for answers after the second high-profile attack on the Metro A Line since April