After a series of violence, the Los Angeles metro announces an “immediate increase” in the number of police officers on buses and trains

Following a series of violence aboard Los Angeles metro buses and trains, Mayor Karen Bass on Thursday announced an “immediate increase” in the number of law enforcement officers patrolling the public transit system, particularly uniformed officers on buses and trains.

From several attacks on drivers to the fatal stabbing of a passenger, a wave of violent crimes in recent months has alarmed local public officials and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of Los Angeles County as they work to find solutions. Bass, who is also chairwoman of Metro’s board of directors, said she ordered the “immediate” deployment of more law enforcement officers on Wednesday — the first in a series of steps taken to fight a rise in crime which she described as “absolutely unacceptable”.

Over time, the number of public safety officers will increase by 20%.

Despite the recent violence, Metro reported an overall 41% drop in crimes against people over the past year. Between February and March, the number of crimes against persons decreased by 18.7%, from 166 to 135, according to the transit system’s public safety report.

Still, local officials and Metro board members acknowledged that the recent crimes are troubling and out of the ordinary. Several public officials said mental health issues, homelessness and substance abuse have contributed to the broader problem of violence, creating a situation that Los Angeles County board member and Supervisor Kathryn Barger said described as “fighting an uphill battle.”

On Thursday, Bass spoke alongside seven other Los Angeles Metro board members and officials to announce their united support for a motion she will propose before the transit system’s board at of its meeting on May 22. The motion will expand cell phone service in subway stations and aboard moving buses and trains, as well as establish unified command between subway security officials and law enforcement. But, perhaps most notably, it will increase the number of uniformed officers riding and patrolling buses. Bass said she asked Metro to do this last thing immediately, even before the motion comes up for a vote next week.

“Given what happened on the trains and buses, we didn’t want to wait for a meeting next week,” Bass said. “We wanted to act immediately.”

A rider at the Metro Red Line-North Hollywood station said she saw a difference Thursday.

“Honestly, I saw the difference from last week and yesterday,” she said. “I was shocked to see so many police officers at each stop.”

Metro’s board will also vote on a budget that would increase public safety spending by 11 percent, doubling the number of transit security officers. More uniformed law enforcement officers will board buses and trains to create a “visible presence” to deter crime and respond quickly, a point emphasized Thursday by several council members of administration.

Janice Hahn, vice chair of the board, said Metro currently contracts with the LAPD, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Long Beach Police Department. She said the agencies are “essential” to making passengers and drivers feel safe, but current contracts “have not allowed us to have a prominent police presence on our system.”

“We need law enforcement on our buses and trains,” Hahn said. “It does our riders no good if the police stay in their patrol cars. The violence against our riders in recent days and weeks demands an urgent response.”

Since the start of this year, there have been at least a dozen incidents where passengers or drivers have been stabbed, beaten or even killed on buses and trains or in Los Angeles subway stations. In February, a passenger died after being pepper-sprayed by another passenger during an argument on a bus in Koreatown. In April, a 67-year-old woman returning home from work by train was stabbed in the throat and killed while walking through the Studio City neighborhood.

“While sitting on the train, she was stabbed without provocation by a man who grabbed the bag she was holding,” Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said in announcing the charges against the accused killer.

During this time, drivers have been the target of multiple violent attacks. In February, there were 12 assaults on operators and 10 in March, according to Metro’s public safety report.

In one case, a man punched a driver in the face and stabbed him in the chest as the bus passed through the Willowbrook neighborhood in South Los Angeles. Just three weeks earlier, another subway driver was threatened with a gun that later turned out to be fake and held hostage, causing the bus to crash into several cars and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. The incident sparked a response from SMART, a union representing subway drivers, demanding immediate action from the transit system.

“Our members are on the ground, armed with guns and risking their lives,” union president Jeremy Ferguson said in a statement. “The time for ‘planning’ is long gone…Employers must act now to protect their workers.”

Earlier this month, subway drivers staged a so-called “sick out,” calling in sick to protest the conditions they face. The transit system said at the time that it understood “drivers’ fear of senseless attacks.” He approved new plexiglass barriers on 2,000 buses, and on Thursday, board members announced plans to do more. Board member and Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said Metro will install barriers on every bus by the end of the year.

Stephanie Wiggins, CEO of the transit system, said seeing uniformed officers patrolling buses and trains seemed like the best immediate solution. “A uniformed presence is key,” she said.

Los Angeles, with its traffic and highways, has never had as established a mass transit system as cities like New York and elsewhere around the world. As Los Angeles prepares to host the 2028 Summer Olympics, Wiggins said she plans to make Metro and the city itself more than ready for the world stage.

“Looking ahead to 2028, it’s clear that failure is not an option,” Wiggins said. “There is no fear that these problems will arise in 2028.”

“We know that today is an incredible opportunity to improve the experience,” she said. “So that in 2028, when we welcome the world back, transportation will be the least thing they will have to worry about.”