Metro: The Sheriff wants more control over security operations on Metro trains and buses. Matthew Hall

Metro rail and bus riders have grown accustomed to seeing a range of uniformed security personnel as their commutes wind them through the greater Los Angeles area. Here on the Expo Line platform at Fourth Street, khaki-clad LASD sheriff’s deputies often congregate, sometimes with dogs to sniff train cars as they arrive from downtown LA. On rail platforms in mid-city, they may spot LAPD transit officers with silver badges and patches that read transit police. At Union Station, they may see Metro Security guards in neon vests over black uniforms. 

This interwoven network of security officers is relatively new to the system; LA Metro “amended its law enforcement structure to include a multi-policing model inclusive of Metro’s Transit Security Guards (TSOs) and contract security personnel” in 2017, according to information from the transit system.

LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced Wednesday he would like to see his department take over all security on LA’s expansive network of bus and rail lines — and indicated that, should LASD not secure a contract for sole security oversight of the network, he would sever all current security ties with LA Metro, which is overseen by the LA County Supervisors.

Since July 1, 2017, LASD has provided security services to the system together with the LAPD and Long Beach Police Department, plus TSOs.

“The vastness of LA County in terms of both geography and population means that a passenger, or a suspect at large, can pass through city boundaries quickly and seamlessly. That’s why our new multi-policing model with the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Long Beach Police Department is so important,” according to a flier describing transit security produced by LA Metro. “Through coordinated efforts and the sharing of resources, we are deterring crime, responding to emergency calls faster and increasing our law enforcement presence across the entire Metro transit system.”

Villanueva on Wednesday said the five-year-old security system has failed to provide security for transit users, the majority of whom are Latino or Black.

Villanueva, speaking during the Wednesday press conference, listed off a series of crimes conducted on and around LA Metro trains and buses and compared the experience of riding LA Metro (what he referred to as MTA) with riding Metrolink, the regional transit around Southern California.

“They [the Metro Board, which includes all five LA County Supervisors] created that administrative court for code of conduct violations, and now, because of that, the Sheriff’s Department cannot enforce code of conduct things,” Villanueva said, later adding, “We cannot enforce trespass, urinating, defecating, spitting, loud music, loitering, fare enforcement — some of the basic things. It should be noted that our department has a Metrolink contract and that is 538 miles of track; it covers six counties. You do not see this on the Metrolink. You only see it on the MTA system.”

The Sheriff later complained his 300 sworn officers currently assigned to assist with Metro security were “basically twiddling their thumbs on a system in decay.”

Villanueva said that when his department’s current contract is up on July 1, LASD would be bidding on “the entire contract” to take over security across all of LA Metro. 

“We’re not going to bid for parts of it,” Villanueva said. “We’re not going to bid for the role of being overpaid security.”

Villanueva’s announcement on Wednesday was the latest chapter in a protracted conflict between the Sheriff and LA County Supervisors. The Sheriff said the Supervisors had made “successful efforts” to “defund and de-staff the Department.”

Third District Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s office did not reply to a request for comment when reached on Wednesday; staff at Kuehl’s office indicated they did not receive a copy of the letter Villanueva said he wrote to the Supervisors announcing his intent to bid for the whole contract, but indicated Supervisor Hilda Solis’ office may be able to provide the letter. Solis’ office did not reply to a request for the letter or further information by the Daily Press deadline.

When contacted on Wednesday, the LASD Information Bureau indicated it did not have access to Villanueva’s letter.