LA Metro ‘transit ambassadors’ offer alternative to armed officers – Pasadena Star News

For Derek White, a middle-aged, well-built man who regularly uses Los Angeles subway trains and buses, jumping on public transport can cause him to feel unwell, leaving him vulnerable to attack.

White, a Lancaster resident who waited last week for a subway bus after leaving the L Line (formerly Gold Line) light rail in downtown Pasadena, said seeing more homeless and mentally ill people on makes you uncomfortable. “It’s during those times when I don’t feel safe,” he said.

While homeless people have assaulted bikers, it is especially homeless people who are most vulnerable to assault, officials say. But since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of people homeless on LA subway trains and buses – and camping near bus stops and stations – has increased. The crime rate is also up, though overall incidents are down, officials said.

Nonetheless, the link between passengers and would-be passengers not feeling safe, and a disproportionate number of citations and arrests involving black and Latino passengers charged with fare evasion and other offences, has led to calls to a third way to control the system and increase traffic.

Last week, the LA Metro Board responded by signing two contracts worth up to $122 million, creating a Transit Ambassadors program, a first for LA Metro.

About 300 friendly and welcoming guides will become the newest eyes and ears, an unarmed patrol team equipped with radios to call homeless social workers or other support teams. Asking law enforcement would be a last resort, according to Metro. Most of the time, an Ambassador will be a friendly face, directing passengers to elevators, turnstiles and bus stops, while helping customers pay their fares by showing them how to use ATMs, TAP cards and various transit apps, Metro reported.

“We’re creating a culture where ambassadors are on the front lines, handling the lion’s share of incidents in transit,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor and LA Metro board member Holly Mitchell, who voted for the program. “We reserve law enforcement and armed response for incidents that truly warrant it – and fare evasion is not one of them.”

Crime and reviews

Crime on 140 bus lines, two bus rapid transit lines, four light rail lines and two subways in 2021 was five crimes per million boardings. That was up from 3.82 crimes per million boardings in 2019, according to LA Metro data. But while the rate is higher, the actual number of crimes has fallen by about 12%.

The total number of boardings across the system reached 21.5 million in May 2022, compared to 17.9 million in May 2021 and 12 million in May 2020. In addition to concerns about COVID transmission, some consider roaming and the perception of endemic crime slow down the level of traffic in the system.

An attempted murder on January 29, 2021 took place at the L Line Indiana station. A sign outside the Lake Avenue L Line station asks for information that could identify the suspect who walked to the cabin window and, without provocation, shot the train operator twice through the window.

LA County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis pays $10,000 reward to add to Metro’s $25,000 reward for capturing suspect in Metro Rail operator shooting

A man was stabbed to death on the Gold Line train in 2018, and in January 2020 Peter Munoz, 52 of Commerce, pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder. Xuezhong Bao, 62, of Azusa was murdered while traveling on the train from Azusa to Irwindale on November 27, 2018.

This knife attack still haunts Azusa Mayor Robert Gonzales, who mentioned it in an interview on Thursday, June 29. He also referred to the increase in the number of homeless people on trains that stop at two stations in Azusa. He said the city is working to fund a homeless resource center to provide comprehensive services to people in need.

The increase in the number of homeless individuals at Azusa is related to two L-Line factors. First, between March 2020 and January 2022, no fares were collected, allowing homeless people to travel for free in the air-conditioned/heated carriages. “The homeless used it as a mobile shelter. So other people didn’t want to get on that thing,” Gonzales said.

Second, the homeless passengers were told by law enforcement that they would not be arrested or cited if they got off when the train stopped, he said. Azusa is the eastern end of the line that departs from East Los Angeles and includes stops at Union Station in downtown LA, Highland Park, and Pasadena. But the line is being built for another 9.1 miles and will reach Glendora, San Dimas, La Verne and Pomona by January 2025.

“We were like, ‘How did you end up in Azusa?’ They said, “Law enforcement says when it stops, get off.” So since we’re at the end of the line, at 2 a.m. when the train service stops, they’ll spill out on our streets. The word is 2 a.m., that’s when the party starts,” Gonzales said.

Despite the problems, Gonzales sees the tram as a plus for the region and his city. His police department works with Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies who deal with homelessness in the county. Gonzales said the situation has improved in Azusa since fare collection was restored by LA Metro in January, and ridership has increased.

He welcomes the idea of ​​adding transit ambassadors.

“Anything that can support law enforcement and provide an extra layer of resources is always a good thing,” he said. “I am cautiously optimistic.”

The loudest critic of the Ambassador Program is Sheriff Alex Villanueva. “We need deputies on trains/buses, not ambassadors – arrests/citations, not a subway court,” he announced on Twitter in late April, around the same time. where a video montage of criminal incidents in the Los Angeles subway last year was released by the media. The transit agency denounced the video, saying it did not represent an accurate picture of the system’s safety record.

La Puente Councilman David Argudo, who unsuccessfully ran for the First District County Supervisory Board in June and supports the sheriff, criticized the ambassador program. He wanted to see an increase in sheriff’s deputies and traditional enforcement methods instead. “I think traffic could go down and crime could go up,” he said.

Redefining Transit Patrols

LA Metro contracts with Strive Well-Being to provide 55 ambassadors who will be placed at Union Station, Metro’s main transit hub in downtown Los Angeles, and in the station’s elevators. The cost over three years is $15,878,421.

A larger contract will go to RMI International Inc. for 244 ambassador positions placed throughout the metro system. The cost over three years is equivalent to $55,400,768. The combined total is 299 Ambassadors for three years for $71,279,189. If these contracts are extended for two years, the cost over five years would reach approximately $123 million. The program is scheduled to run from Aug. 1, 2022, to July 30, 2025, with ambassadors placed on the system this fall, according to Metro.

A security officer on patrol at Union Station Tuesday, June 28, 2022. LA Metro is working on contracts with vendors to launch a first-ever program: LA Metro Ambassadors, a softer approach to law enforcement. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Transit Ambassadors are modeled after a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) program that adds an extra layer to public safety programs.

Effective Friday, July 1, the new contract with the Sheriff’s Department begins at a cost of $71.5 million. LA Metro also contracts with LAPD and Long Beach PD for police patrols on buses and trains in those cities. Additionally, Metro has its own security system team that enforces appropriate codes of conduct on public transit.

In the action passed by the council on November 18, 2021 which gave the initial green light, the function of ambassadors was seen as a way to move away from traditional law enforcement, partly in reaction to discriminatory practices. racial. “On Metro’s own system, fare and code of conduct enforcement has also disproportionately targeted Black and Latino passengers,” reads the board’s motion.

Desarae Jones, project manager for the program, sees ambassadors taking a different approach to fraudsters or those who act inappropriately on public transport.

“We’ve heard from riders that law enforcement — especially those not normally assigned to transit duty — that there’s profiling going on,” Jones said.

If someone doesn’t have a ticket, instead of citations and arrests, an ambassador will show the customer how to use the ticket machine. Additionally, the ambassador would explain the app for Micro Transit, a Metro ride-sharing service that costs $1 per ride, Jones said.

If there is a complaint about a homeless person, instead of sending in armed police or sheriff’s deputies, ambassadors can call in the Crisis Response Team. Metro is investing $10 million in the program and will partner with the LA County Department of Public Health, Jones said.

“We all recognize that sending armed law enforcement into the midst of a health crisis is not the right thing to do,” Supervisor Mitchell said. “It’s not just about calling the police. It appeals to better equipped people.

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