LOS ANGELES—Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva on Wednesday threatened his department would quit patrolling Metro’s transit system unless the agency’s board gives him full control over security on the sprawling network of trains and buses.
Villanueva made the demand as the current contract — under which the Sheriff’s Department splits law enforcement responsibilities with the Los Angeles and Long Beach police departments — is set to expire this summer. The LAPD patrols a majority of the transit system, 325 sheriff’s deputies are responsible for about a third of it, and Long Beach police handle a tiny fraction.
“So effective July 1, we will redeploy, absent a position from the board that they’re going to accept our entire contract,” Villanueva said, adding there are vacancies across the department where he could reassign the deputies. “I have three jobs waiting for every single person assigned to the MTA right now.”
Villanueva and other sheriff’s officials said the Sheriff’s Department will submit to Metro a proposal for about 600 deputies to patrol the transit system for $30 million less annually than what they currently pay for the same level of staffing. The Metro board paid about $800 million for the current 5-year contract.
How Villanueva would be able to do that without badly depleting other areas of his department is unclear. The sheriff has blamed a hiring freeze imposed by the Board of Supervisors for leaving him with almost 1,000 vacancies across his department.
In a statement, L.A. County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, who is also chair of the Metro board and an outspoken critic of Villanueva’s, said dividing patrol responsibilities among three police agencies was intended “to improve law enforcement response.”
“The Sheriff’s declaration of pulling out his deputies if the Department isn’t awarded the full contract with Metro should alarm everyone,” she said. “He would essentially be defunding his own department if not awarded a sole contract.”
The Metro board recently authorized extending the three-agency contract for up to a year to allow time to develop a new process for selecting an agency or agencies to handle security. It’s unclear whether the Sheriff’s Department could refuse to participate in an extension.
Villanueva said he did not consult LAPD Chief Michel Moore before his news conference. Moore told The Times that the current shared-responsibility system “has improved safety.”
“All of us in law enforcement have a shared responsibility for the public safety and mass transit, and we can and should work collaboratively together,” he said.
Moore defended the work of his officers in protecting transit following the sheriff’s statements. “The men and women of the LAPD monitor trains, platforms and buses diligently each and every day around the clock,” he said.
In making his announcement, Villanueva singled out several violent incidents that have occurred at transit stations since September 2020, when two deputies were shot in an ambush while sitting in a patrol car near the Compton transit station.
Violent crime on the system climbed 36% last year, with aggravated assaults, rapes and homicides rising for the second year in a row, according to Metro data.
“To say this [is an] unsafe environment is obviously an understatement,” Villanueva said.
The Metro board has been discussing for years alternatives to law enforcement on the transit system, including considering unarmed ambassadors to work at stations and handle nonviolent calls. The board also recently voted to require all deputies and officers assigned to the transit system to be vaccinated — a jab at Villanueva who has refused to enforce the county’s employee vaccine mandate.
Villanueva criticized the ambassador proposal and other reform-minded initiatives.
“We’re not going to bid for the role of being overpaid security,” Villanueva said. “We’re actually going to enforce the code of conduct, fare evasion and the rule of law.”
For more than a decade until 2017, the Sheriff’s Department had been solely responsible for patrolling Metro’s vast web of bus routes and train lines that includes subway stations in downtown L.A. and solitary bus stops near San Gabriel Valley strip malls.
When the Metro board opted to bring in the Los Angeles and Long Beach police departments, the Sheriff’s Department faced criticism from transit officials and from riders who complained that they rarely saw uniformed deputies on trains and buses. Villanueva claimed Wednesday without offering evidence that the change was a politically motivated move meant to benefit Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was running for reelection at the time.
Villanueva has made threats before about cutting services. In 2020, he announced plans to close two patrol stations to help shrink his department’s budget deficit. Amid criticism, he quickly walked back his remarks, and the closures never happened.
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