Increased Crime Along Transit Lines | South Pasadena Opposes “Defunding Law Enforcement”

Throughout the LA region, Solinsky wrote, there’s been an increase in crime along transit lines, including shootings and other violent attacks.

PHOTO: Steven Lawrence | Police response to person dangerously trespassing on the tracks, causing Metro Rail Trains to stop in both directions

The South Pasadena City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a letter opposing a proposal before the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority that, according to a city staff report, calls for “defunding law enforcement and cancellation of law enforcement contracts for the Metro rail system.” Metro was set to discuss the matter at its meeting Thursday Dec. 2, raising the urgency of providing the city’s views.

But on Thursday, Metro officials said the agenda item was not as draconian as many city officials were led to believe and blamed the Sheriff’s office for undertaking a massive effort to put out “misinformation” about what was being considered.

Law enforcement services throughout Metro’s bus and train system are currently provided under three contracts with the County Sheriff, LAPD and Long Beach Police Department that total $671 million. Metro staff recommended adding up to $75 million through the end of the fiscal year to support “unplanned expenses for special event coverage and surge operations.”

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But Metro staff forwarded a copy of a separate recommendation from an ad hoc subcommittee of Metro’s Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) that called instead for the reallocation of the $75 million to “non-law enforcement alternatives” and to ultimately place Metro on a “non-contract law enforcement model.” While Metro staff included the ad hoc’s recommendation in its paperwork, it did not discuss or endorse it in its own recommendations.

But communications forwarded by the Sheriff’s Department and the LA County Police Chief’s Association to city officials throughout the county suggested that Metro would be entertaining the ad hoc’s recommendations, raising considerable alarm.

“If approved by the full Metro Board these recommendations would significantly reduce public safety, increase the risks of adverse law enforcement contacts, reduce ridership, and create unintended environmental and transportation concerns,” according to the staff report transmitted by South Pasadena City Manager Arminé Chaparyan and prepared by Police Chief Brian Solinsky and management analyst Alison Wehrle. It would shift the $75 million in “needed funding” to “un-vetted alternatives” and require local jurisdictions such as South Pasadena to handle public safety matters in and around rail facilities within their territories, the city staff report warned.

“Removal of law enforcement dedicated to the light rail system’s trains and platforms would create jurisdictional confusion, delay response, prolong investigations, and increase difficulty in follow-up,” it added. The staff report and draft letter of opposition reproduced information and language that was provided in one some of the letters sent out by LACPCA.

The San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments was informed by “the Sheriff and others…that we’d be cutting off the entire Sheriff’s budget,” complained Metro Chair and LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis Thursday. She said the information provided by the Sheriff was “very misleading” and generated many calls to her office and others. The LA County Police Chiefs’ Association (LACPCA) was also calling cities and city managers with the same information, she said. “Once we explained what we were going to be putting forward, they became calm. It is unfortunate that we have to spend so much time putting out fires.”

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | News | Metro train hit by car. The car fled the scene.

Solis spoke after similar comments from Board Member and Pomona Mayor Tim Sandoval, who said the Sheriff’s office sent letters to many mayors and city council members throughout the county “stating that this board was going to eliminate law enforcement” from the Metro system and that he got many calls from people fearful that was what Metro was planning.

But Metro is not taking an “all or nothing” approach, Sandoval said. “I think we are practicing adaptive leadership to really look at the system as a whole, and not law enforcement or no law enforcement.” Rather, Metro is addressing “the kinds of issues that happen on the system and being targeted about what’s needed at that moment so that we are seeing positive results.

“We end up spending a lot of time and energy when someone puts out misinformation and it makes our job a lot harder,” he added.

The board went on to approve the $75.2 million in contracts for law enforcement services, including funds to continue police services through the end of the current fiscal year, and requiring that personnel be vaccinated for COVID.

The board went on to approve the $75.2 million in contracts for law enforcement services, including funds to continue police services through the end of the current fiscal year, and requiring that personnel be vaccinated for COVID.

The letter the city sent to Metro state’s its “staunch opposition and deep concern” about the proposal. “We wholeheartedly recognize the need for a wide-ranging, multi-faceted approach to address existing social concerns, especially among at-risk populations. However it is clear that local municipalities and jurisdictions would face immense challenges if Metro were to reduce the presence of law enforcement” and the SPPD does not currently have the staffing levels to consistently monitor and patrol” all that happens on the train and in and around the platform.

Three citizens provided comments opposing the letter, some noting there had been no public consultation about its content and that it was not brought before the Public Safety Commission. One, from Helen Tran, argued alternatives to transit policing were indicated because an average of only 2.5 crimes were reported at the South Pasadena Metro station during each of the past four years, hence “very little burden would be passed on to the city” if the contracts were cancelled.

Tran also warned the Council about the Sheriff’s misleading statements, writing, “It would be irresponsible to make policy decisions based solely on the recommendations of this particular Sheriff.”

Council approved sending the letter with some additions, including one from Council Member Michael Cacciotti, who added a line highlighting the “lack of visible law enforcement on the trains and stations,” and seeking an accounting of the deployment of law enforcement along the L-Line. Mayor Diana Mahmud also got approval to add a line emphasizing the city’s support for that portion of the Metro PASC that recommended a program of “ambassadors” along the lines that would provide outreach to “our unhoused neighbors” along the rails.

12/6 This article was updated to clarify the proposal Metro was considering.

Ben Tansey is a journalist and author. He grew up in the South Bay and is a graduate of Evergreen State College. He worked in Washington State as a reporter in a rural timber community and for many years as an editor for a Western electric energy policy publication based in Seattle.