CA: Transit groups rally for more Metro Ambassadors and less armed police

April 2, 2024
Members of groups who represent low-income, transit-dependent riders said Metro should augment safety patrols — not with armed officers but with more ambassadors, who wear bright green shirts and walk along the rail stations and depots.

Mar. 28—About 150 transit activists called on LA Metro Thursday, March 28 to scrap plans for an in-house police department and instead spend up to $100 million to hire more unarmed Transit Ambassadors.

Members of groups who represent low-income, transit-dependent riders said Metro should augment safety patrols — not with armed officers but with more ambassadors, who wear bright green shirts and walk along the rail stations and depots. They act as guides and are quasi first-responders who deal with assaults, drug overdoses and violations of Metro rules.

"We are here today to demand Metro invests in care, not cops," said Brenda Jackson, an organizer with Community Power Collective, a group based in Boyle Heights. Jackson spoke at a rally in front of Metro headquarters in downtown L.A.

Laura Raymond, director of the Alliance for Community Transit-Los Angeles (ACT-LA), organizer of the rally, said the Metro board was supposed to discuss details on an in-house police plan but that item got pushed back to later in the year.

However, Raymond said ACT-LA's input on safety spending should be considered by Metro as it begins collecting public comments on a 2025 budget blueprint. Metro will hold a telephone town hall on spending priorities at 6 p.m. on April 16. Registration is required.

"After well over $1 billion spent on a multi-agency police contract since 2017, riders still regularly cite safety concerns," the group wrote in a statement. Metro is spending $173 million this year for the current three law enforcement contracts with the Los Angeles Police Department, Long Beach Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Metro reported last June that an in-house department would cut overhead and cost less than those three contracts — for an annual total of about $135.4 million.

However, Sheriff Robert Luna, in a letter dated Oct. 31, 2023, said Metro's analysis was way off and that the cost of running a Metro police department would reach $227.5 million annually, saying that any cost savings from an in-house police department were nonexistent.

The 18-month-old ambassador pilot program costs Metro about $20 million a year. ACT-LA is calling for a four-to-five fold increase to the program, by granting raises and adding ambassadors to buses, which are how 80% of Metro customers ride. Currently, ambassadors mostly ride the six train lines and greet passengers at rail stations and multi-modal depots.

The group reported that the ambassadors, who are trained to use Narcan to reverse a possibly fatal opioid overdose, have saved 135 lives since the program began. Metro has turned its attention to stopping crime, drug abuse and homelessness on its system during the past two years, using mental health teams and nonprofit groups that move the unhoused into shelter.

"We are asking they expand the (Ambassador) program. Now they are not deployed on most buses," Raymond noted. She also wants ambassadors trained as elevator attendants, to keep eyes on those who go in the lifts to inject illegal drugs or to commit other crimes.

An elevator monitor program has been successful at the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, she said.

Fabian Bolanos, an ambassador who led an unsuccessful attempt to unionize, said at the rally and at the board meeting that Metro should train ambassadors in mental health and social work. He also asked they be provided radios to communicate directly with law enforcement and paramedics.

"We are making a difference to most of the female passengers," he said at the rally. "A number of passengers who are female, and have to get to work, feel threatened."

He said the ambassadors, now numbering around 350, should be expanded to 2,400. "We need support from Metro so they realize they can spend more money on us."

Cindy Alonso, a junior at Bravo Medical Magnet High School in East Los Angeles, echoed his call. "I support the ambassador program. An in-house police department from Metro is unnecessary," she said.

The alliance of rider groups also called for basic improvements that they said can make the system safer, such as cleaner buses and bus stops with better lighting to ward off criminals.

"I just want to sit at a bus station that is clean," said Isabel Decum, a bus rider from Watts.

Others held signs that demanded Metro provide more public toilets, especially after the Regional Connector created long rail lines — without any toilets at stations.

"We want access to basic necessities like public restrooms," said Jackson.

Metro has been testing out four self-contained, smart phone activated toilets by a company called Throne Labs in a pilot program. Of the 140 rail and bus transit centers that Metro serves on its 115 miles of rail lines, only three stations have public restrooms, not including the new Throne units.


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