Friday, February 19, 2021

Metro Overspent Its Policing Budget By How Much?!

On Thursday, Metro’s Board of Directors will be asked to vote on floating more than $110 million in additional funding to maintain the agency’s existing contract for uniformed police on the transit system. The contract, which was negotiated in 2017, resulted in replacing the Sheriff’s Department with a lucrative policing-by-committee approach including sheriff’s deputies and officers from the Los Angeles and Long Beach Police Departments.

Concerns were raised back then about the terms of the agreement. In particular, its planned expenditures of more than $650 million over a five-year period offered a potentially huge new revenue stream for both the LAPD and the LBPD. The contract consisted of offering overtime to officers – specifically to more expensive supervisory staff –  was enough to make the public wonder how much we were truly getting for our money. The response was that the overtime pay was a useful tool to make the shifts more attractive as voluntary work. 

There were also plenty of concerns about the reputation of these agencies over policing Black and brown Angelenos, and Metro’s history of targeting these same riders for violations of its code of conduct. Those questions only became amplified last year in the wake of the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Dijon Kizzee, Andres Guardado and too many others by police.

So what is happening in Los Angeles? Last week, Metro staff gave a presentation to the Operations and Public Safety committee stating that through the first three years of the five year contract, the agency has overspent its budget for policing by about 17%–that’s $111 million dollars! The policing contract includes no money for special event deployments or other times that Metro might request a police presence on the system.

According to the staff presentation, without the Board’s approval to boost the total contract value to up near $800 million dollars, the agency will run out of money for policing by this summer – a full year early. Staff compound this by saying they also expect to return to ask for an extension of 6 months on the existing contract, amounting to $84 million more dollars (plus whatever unvetted additional services staff authorize, of course).

Let’s not mince words. Metro has to ask for an increase in its contracts with the Los Angeles Police Department, the Long Beach Police Department and the County Sheriff because the original contracts were egregiously generous and because the agency’s approach to policing  mirrors the systemic failures we’ve seen elsewhere; namely, overly generous contracts with little oversight, insufficient accountability mechanisms, and an over-reliance on police overtime.

There is no other category of spending that could exceed its budget by this much without the Metro Board raising serious questions about the program’s sheer fiscal irresponsibility. As we have discussed at length with respect to bus service, even when the Board directs money to restoring service, Operations resists spending it. How is it then that in the wake of the largest wave of calls to change the mainstream conception of acceptable policing practices, Metro is pushing not only for more money but for a longer period of time on a contract that simply is not working?

We find ourselves asking the peculiar question of having to ask, “Did Metro not know that special events happen in Los Angeles?” Given the intensity of focus at the same time as the contract was approved on the recent selection of the city for the 2028 Olympics, this seems unlikely. What was the chain of approval for requesting special police deployments? Why is Metro only coming to the Board for approval after multiple years of above-budget spending?

There are so many questions that the Board should put to staff, but the biggest one is this: Why should the Board – or the public – trust Metro’s spending going forward? In a moment when radical change is being demanded, staff has indicated that they are dedicated to retrenchment – failed models of policing that rely on pushing armed police into confrontations with unhoused Angelenos.

Metro owes the public a full accounting of what went wrong with this contract. Why was the contract structured in a way that allowed the agency to run up a huge tab for unanticipated services? What alternatives did the agency consider when existing policing resources were deemed insufficient? How is the agency holding leadership accountable for contract overages and what controls are being put in place to ensure that this doesn’t happen again? As the agency is convening an Public Safety Advisory Committee that will be providing recommendations for a future public safety contract, we need to have a clear understanding of what went wrong here. Expanding an already bloated police budget at a time when the public, including Investing in Place and many partners we work with, are calling for more thoughtful and effective approaches to public safety does not inspire trust.

Riders want, expect, and deserve a safe riding experience, but we do not accept that the current contract and approach delivers that. The Board should take notes from the Los Angeles Unified School District and use this as an opportunity to be bold in redirecting funds from policing to other resources to provide compassionate public safety and services on board the system.  It is past time to close the door on this failed contract and the attitudes toward policing that it represents.

Investing in Place is working towards a vision where Los Angeles is a city that addresses the safety and access needs of all who call it home. We stand in solidarity with our partners like the Labor Strategy Center/Bus Riders Union and Alliance for Community Transit – Los Angeles, who have been advocating for years to reimagine public safety on our public transit system and divest to invest in our communities. Not only is this contract broken, but so is Metro’s approach to its role in supporting public safety for Black and brown people as they travel throughout our region, and now is the time to revisit that approach. 


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