Sheriff Villanueva says he wants deputies to oversee all Metro law enforcement
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he wants his department to take over all policing duties on the county’s public buses and trains during a live-streamed session Wednesday, Dec. 1., arguing his staff members are the best equipped for the job and that the change would save millions of tax dollars.
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation board is currently in a contract with the Sheriff’s Department, as well as the Los Angeles and Long Beach police departments to oversee its public safety and law enforcement. The board was set to vote on a $75 million, six-month extension for the contract at its Thursday meeting.
Of that, Los Angeles police would receive about $38.6 million, the Sheriff’s Department $32.8 million and Long Beach police $3.7 million.
As it stands, moving all law enforcement operations to the Sheriff’s Department is not on the Metro board’s agenda.
“Staff has recommended that our Board approve funding the remaining six months of our law enforcement contracts with the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and Long Beach Police Department,” LA Metro said in a statement, “as well as authorize an extension of up to one-year. We believe this will give Metro’s Public Safety Advisory Committee sufficient time to finalize its long-term recommendations.”
Villanueva said to followers on Facebook and Instagram Wednesday that if the Sheriff’s Department took over all Metro’s law enforcement operations, he could save up to $30 million annually in tax dollars and assume jurisdiction over routes currently policed by the LAPD and LBPD.
The Sheriff’s Department oversaw all Metro enforcement until 2017, when Los Angeles and Long Beach police departments took some of the jurisdiction.
The sheriff accused Los Angeles police of racking up $75 million in overtime wages, but it wasn’t clear what span of time that was.
Los Angeles and Long Beach police did not immediately respond to comment.
The LASD’s Transit Services Bureau operates on a 24-hour schedule, so Villanueva said his department does not charge Metro for overtime.
“I’m going to propose and we’re going to submit this in writing to the MTA board, we’re going to propose policing the entire contract,” he said. “The whole system, just like we did prior to 2017. We’re going to do it with a full-time staff.”
Villanueva argued his department is the best equipped to handle public safety on buses and trains. He highlighted LASD teams each specially trained to respond to acts of terrorism, people having mental health crises and outreach to the homeless population.
“There’s going to be a continuity of service providers,” he said, “continuity of jurisdiction, of communication and all the bells and whistles that come with contracting with the Sheriff’s Department.”
County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said the Metro board made that move to contract with the three agencies in 2017 because it made more sense to have local law enforcement police their areas.
“The thinking (at the time) was it’s better to have local law enforcement covering those stations and those bus lines,” she said in a Wednesday interview, “because they can be in the station or near the station. The flexibility for law enforcement was better. It was not anything against the sheriff at the time, but it just made sense to us.”
Kuehl said she believes it continues to make sense going forward.
County Supervisor Janice Hahn also added an amendment to the law enforcement contract, requiring that the agencies require a COVID vaccine for deputies or officers.
While a vaccine mandate is in place for all county employees, Villanueva has pushed back on the mandate for his deputies.
“It’s quite amusing to me that the sheriff might think that his officers ought to have the entire scope of law enforcement on Metro,” Kuehl said. “When he can’t even meet the vaccination requirements for the little part that he has.”
Villanueva repeated criticism for another plan proposed by an ad hoc LA Metro committee that would replace police and deputies on transit lines with civilian “public safety ambassadors.” He suggested that eliminating law enforcement would exacerbate a rising trend of assaults against transit staff and passengers. He said there have been 38 attacks against LA Metro employees in LASD-patrolled areas so far in 2021, compared to 25 in 2020 and 26 in 2019.
Villanueva accused the LA Metro board of being out of touch with the people it serves. He referred to buses and trains as “mobile homeless shelters” and accused transit officials of “inviting the homeless population onto your trains, onto your platforms,” and suggested they were contributing to crime.
The sheriff said he encountered a pervasive smell of urine as he rode the county’s subway lines last week.
“Remember, we’re going into the Super Bowl, we’re hosting in February,” Villanueva said. “World Cup, Olympics in 2028. We need a world-class transit system that is, one, not a mobile homeless shelter.”