Crime & Justice

Bomb threat to Universal City station leads to increased security at LA Metro stops

Passengers exit the Red Line at the Universal City station on Dec. 6, 2016. Law enforcement authorities ordered additional security at the station after receiving information about a non-corroborated bomb threat directed at the Metro stop.
Passengers exit the Red Line at the Universal City station on Dec. 6, 2016. Law enforcement authorities ordered additional security at the station after receiving information about a non-corroborated bomb threat directed at the Metro stop.
Meghan McCarty/KPCC

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Riders saw beefed up security for the city's Metro lines Tuesday after Los Angeles law enforcement agencies received information about a bomb threat to the Universal City station.

The information indicated the potential attack was to take place Tuesday, but conditions were calm as of late morning. L.A. police and sheriff's deputies announced the additional security at an evening press conference Monday. 

The threat was specific and imminent — enough to warrant action, according to FBI Assistant Director in Charge Deirdre Fike — but it hasn't been deemed credible. She said it's likely that authorities will eventually be able to determine this was a non-credible threat.

The FBI, the LAPD and the L.A. Sheriff's Department say that, out of an abundance of caution, there will be increased patrols and other precautionary measures taken.

"This could be real, it could be a hoax," L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said, but he added that people should take the same precautions that would take any other day.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said the public was notified because the threat was specific and imminent to the Universal City Metro Red Line station. He said authorities would prefer to receive information on threats weeks rather than hours in advance, but the short lead time is why officials were making the threat public.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti spoke to reporters Tuesday morning before taking a ride on the Red Line at Universal City.

"We wanted to have an abundance of caution here today and reassure people that we will have the necessary forces around and near ... our public transportation system to assure passengers that today is a safe day to go about our business," he said.

All entrances except one at the Universal City station were barricaded. Metro riders entered through an arcade, passing by several sheriff's deputies with bomb-sniffing dogs.

"This is probably the safest time to commute," said passenger Drew Thermos as he prepared to commute to his job in downtown L.A. "If you saw upstairs, someone would be dumb to try to do something today."

Many riders were caught off guard by the increased security measures. Commuter Jacidia Caroso said she had no idea there was a threat to the station.

"If I had known, I really don't now. I'd have to take a Lyft or something because I don't have a car. So this is how I rely to get around." She said it "would have been nice" to have been given advance warning.

The information about the threat came through an anonymous tip line to one of the Joint Terrorism Task Force's international partners on Monday morning, Fike said. Local partners were notified shortly afterward.

"The country of origin, in terms of where the tip came from, was Australia," said LAPD Commander Horace Frank of the department's Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau. He did not say whether the potential threat itself came from that country.

Garcetti on Monday compared the threat to when the L.A. Unified School District received a threat in December 2015 and closed schools out of an abundance of caution. He said it was important to err on the side of more resources rather than fewer.

While people may see a heightened security presence, Garcetti said not to let the additional patrols frighten them. He encouraged people to ride Metro and said that authorities were working to make it as worry-free as possible.

McDonnell said people should expect to see an increased personnel presence, as well as K-9 explosive detection teams. He also noted that there would be undercover plainclothes operations.

Officials encouraged the public that, if they see something suspicious, they should say something and report what they see to authorities. They encouraged people to call 877-A-THREAT or download the iWatchLA app to make a report.

"Its the kind of thing that just looks out of place," Frank said. "Bags left unattended...someone who is walking around and it seems like they're trying to evade detection..or a vehicle parked where it shouldn't be for a long period of time..those are all types of suspicious activities."

Someone who sets a bag down and walks away would be another example of suspicious activity, Frank said. 

"Let us vet those things that you see," he said.

"Don't be the person that regrets when something should occur," McDonnell said.

The bomb threat comes as Metro considers a plan to switch up its contracts for law enforcement on its buses and trains, adding Los Angeles and Long Beach police officers to its use of county sheriff's deputies.

Critics of the change have said coordinating multiple agencies could prove a problem. But Heather J. Williams, an expert on security issues with the Rand Corp., said she does not see an issue.

"These institutions work together very closely. So there are weekly meetings, for example, between the L.A. sheriffs, the L.A. police, the FBI and federal agencies to talk about what new threats might be emerging."

More important in deterring terror attacks on transit is the visible presence of officers, she said.

Metro's plan would increase the number of officers on duty from a minimum of 160 systemwide to 200 a day, and would cost up to $546 million over five years.

You can watch the full video of the Monday press conference below: 

This story has been updated.