LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced a sweeping new plan Tuesday to turn away individuals who live on Los Angeles County Transportation Authority trains.
The plan, called Operation Safe Travel, scheduled to go into effect on June 1, calls for high-visibility police patrols, outreach to displaced civilians, and early intervention.
“We definitely have a problem with the metro system, and it has been brought to our attention time and time again,” Villanueva said. “About 5,700 people live in the train system and on platforms, and this intersection with people who are already using trains for the intended purpose of travel is with fatal consequences.”
In presenting his argument for the plan, Villanueva listed several fatal accidents that occurred in the metro system involving homeless individuals over the past six months. And in November, a passenger was shot in the head. In January, a woman was attacked and killed at a bus stop near Union Station, and another passenger was pushed onto the rails at Willowbrook Station.
Recently, in May, a homeless person deliberately set fire to twice while riding a train, and a female patron was sexually assaulted at a train station by a passerby, Sharif said.
“When you have this many homeless people in the system, bad things are going to happen because you have people who are under the influence, they have mental problems, and they are in a place where people are vulnerable,” Villanueva said.
Saying that trains are for people to travel, not places to live, Villanueva criticized the Metro Board of Directors for allowing the train system to expose its passengers to hateful behaviors including drug use, mental health episodes, sexual harassment and violence.
Under its contract with Metro, the Los Angeles County Police Department responds to 911 calls and provides mental health assessment teams to help Metro respond quickly to emergencies, but it does not patrol trains.
In a move aimed at forcing Metro, Villanueva said his department will implement the Safe Travel process. Called a “simple, multi-layered approach,” the plan calls for targeted operations along the entire system at the county level. This includes having mayor response teams on trains to provide additional visibility, with patrol deputies calling and handling passengers.
“You shouldn’t step on corpses or people who inject themselves or are assaulted by passengers,” Villanueva said. “This is not acceptable in any way, shape or form worldwide. This is all about safety.”
As part of the program, the mayor’s department is creating a Safe Travel Advice Line (213-229-2298) for the public to report any “non-emergency subway concerns.” The line is already open for calls.
Operation Safe Travel will also deploy community police units, also known as TSB units, as well as dogs. It will also send mental assessment teams trained to interact with homeless individuals on the metro system, according to Los Angeles County Police Captain Sean Kehoe.
Approximately 270 sworn officers and 45 civilian employees are assigned to the Sheriff’s Department’s directed community police units. Sheriff also plans to tap resources into drug and major crime, safe streets, and reserve force offices.
Kehoe said they also plan to use intelligence units specializing in human trafficking “because we have human trafficking on the system as well as sex-related crimes.”
The most important component of the plan, Kehoe added, is our host teams – our access to homeless individuals living on trains. We will actively engage these communities.”
Lt. Jeffrey Diedrick, who oversees the HOST programme, said the focus is on building relationships and communicating with vulnerable people in the community. As part of the program, LAPD mental assessment teams partner with professionals from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
HOST is already mandated for every homeless camp in its jurisdiction of five or more people. Diedrick said that in the 10 years he’s been at HOST, he’s never had to get arrested and he’s never had to use force.
Metro responded to Villanueva’s plan Tuesday by saying in a statement, “We will continue to work collaboratively with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office as outlined in our contract extension for next year. Safety is Metro’s number one priority, and we continue to add additional programs and services to our system to address crime, hygiene, and safety issues.” As the year goes on, Metro will evaluate all of our options to determine the most effective path forward to create the safest and most comfortable environment possible for our customers and employees.”
Villanueva said the department’s Safe Travel Operation plan “would conflict with some illegal parts of the Metro contract,” which he said puts the transportation agency on liability issues because law enforcement responds to violence that has already occurred rather than interfering before it could have occurred.
“This system was not designed to be a homeless shelter, period,” Villanueva said. “There is no acceptable way on Earth anywhere, yet this system has been allowed to perpetuate it. So, let’s focus on public safety. Let’s enforce the code of conduct.”