Metro declares public safety emergency, will install enhanced bus driver barriers

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Friday, April 26, 2024
Metro declares public safety emergency, bus driver barriers approved
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority declared a public safety emergency while agreeing to procure safety barriers for bus drivers.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Following the death of woman on the Metro B Line and a series of violent attacks on bus drivers, the transit agency's Board of Directors declared a public safety emergency Thursday while agreeing to procure new safety barriers for bus drivers and taking other steps to enhance safety on the system.

Metro's Board of Directors unanimously adopted a recommendation to acquire new barriers for hundreds of buses, in response to a "sudden, unexpected increased severity of assaults on operators." According to Metro, assaults on bus operators increased from 92 attacks in 2019 to 160 in 2023, and they continue to escalate this year.

Metro board member and Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger also introduced a motion, co-authored by several of her colleagues, to quickly explore solutions to bolster public safety, prompted by the death of 66-year- old Mirna Soza Arauz, who was stabbed in an apparently unprovoked attack earlier this week.

"Metro riders deserve to be safe on the system, and we will continue to do all that," Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, who chairs the Board of Directors, said during Thursday's meeting. "We can keep not only our riders, but also our operators, safe, and I know that as a board, we will step up to this challenge because that's what frankly the people of Los Angeles deserve."

Barger said her motion calls for the agency to secure station gate entrances and exits, analyze data on violent crimes -- including those by reoffenders -- occurring on the system, and speed up pilot solutions at some of the most "challenging" stations. The motion was co-authored by Supervisors Janice Hahn and Hilda Solis, as well as L.A. City Council President Paul Krekorian, Inglewood Mayor James Butts and Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian.

Among other measures the Board of Directors called for were quickly increasing security cameras, implementing facial recognition technology, and using other technology. The agency may also look into ways of banning problematic individuals from Metro altogether.

"We have received reports highlighting improvements since last year on crime stats and over other key areas," Barger said. "But the reality is that we are fighting a battle with one hand tied behind our back."

A former Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority chief safety officer reacted to recent violent incidents on buses and a subway train.

At one point, Barger said she didn't feel safe riding Metro by herself.

"I hate to say it, I will not ride our transit system by myself," Barger said.

While there was overall agreement to explore as many options as possible to improve Metro's safety, there was disagreement as to how to best get there.

Supervisor Lindsey Horvath was critical of Metro's policing contracts with the Los Angeles Police Department, Long Beach Police Department and L.A. County Sheriff's Department. She suggested that the agencies have not been forthcoming about how they've improved their approach to deploying their officers across the transit system.

Butts said he was a proponent of implementing more security technology across the system.

Supervisor Holly Mitchell said the agency needs to keep the broader context in mind while discussing public safety and not commit to "knee jerk reactions."

The Board of Directors is expected to hear more about potential public safety measures within 60 days.

City News Service contributed to this report.