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Rise in mass transit crime has LA officials searching for solutions

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(LOS ANGELES) — Los Angeles, like other major cities, has seen a surge in crime committed on buses, trains and stations’ transit hubs, according to statistics compiled by ABC News, and now transit officials are working to find a solution.

Crimes reported on Los Angeles MTA properties increased by 65% since 2020 and, between March 2023 and February 2024, average monthly violent crimes on MTA properties rose more than 15%, according to LAPD data compiled by ABC News.

“We’ve had drivers where machetes have been pulled. Urine has been thrown on them. Feces, you name it, whatever they can get their hands on,” Christine Ivey, a Los Angeles bus operator for 30 years, told ABC News.

Ivey currently works for the Santa Monica Municipal Bus Lines and said the same concerns of assaults on drivers in the southern California have been ongoing for years.

As the city has struggled to find solutions and deal with staffing issues concerning security officials who handle transit, riders and operators have been pleading for help.

City and transit officials said they have been working to combat crime while also addressing concerns about homelessness in the mass transit hubs, mental health issues and repeat violent offenders.

LA Metro said in a statement that it has instituted a “multi-layered safety plan, which includes a combination of unarmed care-based personnel, transit security officers and law enforcement, to best serve a diverse customer base with differing views on safety.”

In addition, the agency’s metro ambassador program — a three- to five-year pilot — is one part of their multi-layered plan. According to L.A. Metro, ambassadors are present to support riders from providing directions to resources available for people experiencing homelessness.

But Andrew Black, the former deputy chief of security for the LA Metro, told ABC News that other security measures need be implemented to curb crime in LA’s mass transit system.

Black said he felt tackling fare evasion is key to keeping commuters safe.

“Lacking control of who gets onto the system was the root of the majority of the problems. It wouldn’t solve all the problems, but by controlling access, non-paying individuals, non-paying members of the public, you could dramatically decrease crime on the metro,” he said.

Black had proposed hiring more officers to patrol the city’s mass transit, but five months into his job at the end of 2022 he was terminated. Black sued the LA Metro claiming in court documents that a top metro executive told him “not to speak to bus operators, further, about the need for increased staffing.”

LA Metro denied all of Black’s allegations in a response to his suit. The agency has come under fire following its recent dismissal of another security official.

Last week Gina Osborn, the MTA’s chief security officer, was fired two days after she filed a report with the agency inspector general’s office, according to her attorney. Her attorney said the report dealt with a “safety issue.”

Osborn was named in Black’s lawsuit, which alleges she told him “she had gotten in trouble herself … for having spoken honestly in the past.”

LA Metro told ABC News in a statement, “Any claims of retaliation are categorically untrue. Metro will not comment further on this personnel matter, litigation, or speculative litigation.”

While LA Metro addresses security leadership concerns, some mass transit employees in southern California have been pushing for their own solutions.

As chair and legislative representative with the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transporation Workers, Ivey said her assault prevention and safety committee is “looking at ways of making sure that the company is doing their due diligence, to make sure that the customers know that they are not tolerating the assaults on their personnel.”

“We have various ideas that we’re trying to entertain. One is extending jail time for assailants who assaulted drivers in the commission of their duty, either inside that bus or outside that bus,” she said.

ABC News’ Alex Stone and Talisa Treviño contributed to this report. 

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