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Metro board puts off decision on policing contracts after oversight questions arise

FILE PHOTO: A rider waits to board as a train arrives at the subway stop at Pershing Square on April 25, 2006 in Los Angeles. Metro is taking up new policing contracts aimed at improving safety for its train and bus lines.
FILE PHOTO: A rider waits to board as a train arrives at the subway stop at Pershing Square on April 25, 2006 in Los Angeles. Metro is taking up new policing contracts aimed at improving safety for its train and bus lines.
David McNew/Getty Images

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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority board delayed a decision Thursday on a plan to hire multiple police departments aimed at making the system's trains and buses safer for riders.

Metro reports crimes have dropped about 15 percent this year and 80 percent of Metro bus and train riders said in a 2015 survey that they feel safe using transit.

But safety remains a continuing concern — it was cited as a top worry for those who stopped using transit, and that comes during a period when Metro ridership has declined.

For more than a decade, Los Angeles' trains and buses have been policed by the county sheriff's department. But Metro is considering law enforcement contracts with the Los Angeles and Long Beach police who would replace a large majority of the sheriffs' deputies.

The agreements are valued at almost $527 million and would cover the next five years.

On Thursday, the Metro board voted to continue discussion on the contracts to February. Board members have lingering questions about the kind of oversight Metro will have over the law enforcement agencies' hours and resources for transit policing.

In other action, the Metro board approved a $298 million settlement with a contractor on the 405 freeway Sepulveda Pass widening project, which was completed in 2014. The construction added carpool lanes to 10 miles of the notoriously congested freeway.

The settlement brings the total cost of the project to $1.6 billion and puts to rest a years-long dispute with the contractor over delays and design changes made during the five-year project.

LA policing ranked unfavorably in audit

The move to beef up security follows an audit of Metro's policing, conducted last year by the agency's Office of the Inspector General, that compared Los Angeles unfavorably to other major transit systems.

While it noted the crime and emergency call rate was not high, the audit showed L.A. Metro had a higher rate of serious crimes in 2014 than Chicago, Washington, D.C., Boston and Philadelphia.

Only San Francisco’s BART system had a higher incidence of crimes, although the majority of those cases involved petty theft while L.A.’s rate of violent crimes, including homicide and rape, was higher.

A chart from the Inspector General's audit of Metro policing shows the rate of crime among major city transit systems with similar ridership.
A chart from the Inspector General's audit of Metro policing shows the rate of crime among major city transit systems with similar ridership.
LA MTA

The audit highlighted disparities in the allocation of resources for policing and security. Although Metro's Blue and Green Lines recorded the highest crime rates, the audit found they weren’t getting the most policing resources. That distinction went to other lines, including the Gold Line.

This story has been updated.

Metro Policing and Security Workload Staffing Final Report