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MTA Board Increases Police Contracts, Promises Funding For Alternatives

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) - The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Thursday unanimously voted to increase law enforcement contracts with the Los Angeles and Long Beach police departments and L.A. County Sheriff's Department, but the total amount increased was $75 million less than initially requested.

The board voted to amend the law enforcement contracts to increase funding by $36 million, instead of the $111 million requested, with L.A. Metro CEO Phillip Washington or his designee responsible for dividing it among the three law enforcement contracts. The contract will last through Dec. 31, while previously it was set to last an extra six months.

Mayor Eric Garcetti -- who chairs the board -- City Councilman Mike Bonin and several board members also amended the motion to instruct Metro's CEO to include at least $40 million in the fiscal year 2022 budget for investments in alternatives to policing, including transit ambassadors, elevator attendants and a flexible dispatch system to enable a response by homeless outreach workers, mental health specialists and unarmed security ambassadors.

On Feb. 25, the board was scheduled to vote on the larger $111 million increase, which was divided as:

- $6.9 million for law enforcement services from the LBPD, increasing the contract from $30 million to $36.9 million;

- $60.1 million for law enforcement services from the LAPD, increasing the contract from $369.3 million to $429.4 million; and

- $44.1 million for law enforcement services from the sheriff's department, increasing the contract from $246.2 million to $290.4 million.

According to the board report, the increase was requested "to cover significant costs incurred to augment outreach services to the unhoused population, address crime trends, sexual harassment enhanced deployments to cover special events, employee and customer complaints and other unforeseen circumstances."

Garcetti said he agreed with public criticism about the agencies being provided with more funding after they overspent their contracts. "We can't undo that overspending ... we need honest numbers so that we can assess those and look people square in the eye and say this isn't some sneaky way of getting more dollars in later," he said.

The board amended the contract to increase it by $36 million instead. According to Washington, L.A. Metro is attempting to find a balance between the public's concerns about policing and the need for security on the transit system.

"Our hope is that the public and the board understand that we're trying as a staff to get to a good balance here in terms of policing on our system, trying to get to a happy medium here understanding both perspectives," Washington said before the vote Thursday. "I do understand both perspectives, from a lived experience as an African American male, I understand completely what we are saying about policing, but also as someone who reviews every incident report on the system, I do believe we need some level of security on the system."

The Public Safety Advisory Committee will submit recommendations during the remaining months of the contract that will serve as "a public safety model leading into the proposed future law enforcement services contract" in the 2022 fiscal year and beyond.

Both proposed increases were met with opposition from activists who support a re-imagining of public safety away from armed officers. The Labor/Community Strategy Center and the Bus Riders Union have been urging the public to call into meetings and oppose the increased funding to law enforcement.

They want the Metro board to:

- reject any increase to policing on MTA buses and trains;

- move towards a free transit system;

- stop ticketing people for evading fares;

- de-escalate police presence and consider unarmed civilians on trains and buses; and

- cut the police budget in half.

Alliance for Community Transit Los Angeles (ACT-LA) released a report, which Garcetti called "very impressive," calling for Metro to end its law enforcement contracts. It proposes that Metro create community-based systems of safety "that center the most vulnerable community members, improve accessibility for riders with disabilities and low-income riders, and focus on increasing public health."

It recommends having transit ambassadors who are trained in de-escalation and customer service to support transit workers and riders, as well as trust agents who serve as a "soothing presence in public spaces."

Additionally, the report recommends a system for onsite health and crisis support and campaigns for bystander training.

Garcetti said Thursday that the city needs to reduce policing through a process and have a plan first, using the Los Angeles Unified School District as an example.

"The school district didn't get rid of every single police officer while they figured out a plan, they put the plan together and presented that and decided to reallocate what when into policing and what didn't," he said.

Garcetti added that he wants L.A. to begin that process immediately and not wait years for it to happen.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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