Community Policing and Public Transportation

By Lieutenant Allen Schubert
Los Angeles Police Department

On July 1, 2017, the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) newly-formed Transit Services Bureau (TSB) and Transit Services Division (TSD) entered into a five-year contract with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (METRO) with the promise to provide safe and effective conveyance for all 1.5 million Angelenos who commute daily along the 95 miles of rail lines and 1,700 bus routes. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has made it very clear that there are no caveats when it states, “all Angelenos.” In the past, several entities have tried to fulfill this commitment, but fell just short of METRO’s expectations. The biggest problem: they were using traditional policing models to handle radio calls. Specifically, calls for service on the rails and buses were just added onto the heavy call load of an already-established division. Officers would respond by patrol vehicle from their normally-patrolled jurisdiction, handle the issue, and quickly dart back to their field duties. This resulted in poor response times and a disconnect between the rail/bus commuters and officers. In addition, officers never gained a fundamental working knowledge of the quality-of-life issues plaguing the transportation riders.

These days, Chief of Police Charlie Beck leads a modern and progressive police department that is fully aligned with the ideals set forth in the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Our officers have adopted a “guardian mindset” – a community policing model that couples the friendly foot-beat cop of yesteryear with an appreciation for the city’s diverse citizenry. Under the guidance of TSB Deputy Chief Bob Green, Commander Anne Clark and TSD Captain Brian Pratt, a new type of Community Police Division has been designed – a vessel with our Core Value of “Respect for People” as the unyielding bow that leads us through promising, uncharted waters. Our results have been outstanding. In a mere six months, TSD can proudly report that the total crime from July through December 2017, has declined slightly, compared with the same period in the previous year.[1]

We have LAPD officers riding all the rail lines, and various bus lines in every bureau, 24 hours a day. The visible presence of our officers is paramount. Opportunistic criminals and fare evaders now find themselves on guard – for at any given moment, a pair of LAPD officers may be standing next to them. Of course, this comes as a welcome to the hard-working commuters. Ridership is on the rise, with an estimated increase in ridership of over 350,000 passengers from February 2017 through February 2018.[2]

To maintain this extraordinary level of service, TSD has developed a spider web deployment strategy where officers disembark from various satellite stations around the City of Los Angeles. After a short Roll Call, the officers merely walk a few feet to jump aboard the rails and buses. Should these officers need a patrol vehicle for an arrest or other task, they request assistance from their supervisors or a respective Patrol Division. This unique, never-attempted-model of policing enables officers to patrol the routes much faster than a regular patrol vehicle, and by responding to calls aboard the conveyances they are sworn to protect, the officers provide a highly visible and comforting presence to the daily commuters riding alongside them. Each satellite station operates as its own miniature police division, responsible only for the activities that occur on its specific rail and bus lines. They are supported by roving teams of elite Metropolitan Division Police Officers, divisional task forces, and undercover gang and vice detectives. In addition, this spider web concept builds upon the community policing philosophy because officers choose the satellite stations they enjoy working at the most. The officers become subject matter experts on their chosen lines, developing intimate knowledge of darkened bus stops, empty parking lots, and normally-overlooked crevices where predators lie in wait. The only exception is Code-3 calls – these are still assigned to patrol vehicles, as well as a TSD unit.

Commuters have grown accustomed to seeing the same friendly police officers on their line and this comfort invites conversation and the exchange of information. It is akin to the policing of yesteryear, where officers and citizens knew each other on a first-name basis.  Relationship building is like the hull of the TSD vessel, building camaraderie amongst the officers and citizens. If an elderly woman needs a guide through the beautifully-designed, yet sometimes intimidating, Union Station, if an argument arises between two bus patrons over an empty seat, or if a rail conductor is having a problem with an unruly passenger, there will now be a friendly, approachable officer to guide them through their problems. A myriad of specialized officers with extensive training in community policing are helping navigate the TSD flagship. Chief among them are our tenured Senior Lead Officers (SLOs). The SLO program is an integral part of Chief Beck’s philosophy of community caretaking and TSD maintains five SLOs who work every bureau throughout the city. Their mission is to promote our new TSD and make citizens aware that no problem is too small to elicit our help. Our SLOs go beyond the standard meet-and-greets, e.g., Coffee with a Cop, and have become a visible component at every high-profile ceremony, concert, and charity event that occurs on or near a METRO substation and bus line. Senior Lead Officers are also conscious of the fact that having a strong community presence often means traveling outside of normal jurisdictional boundaries. For example, they often travel to the San Fernando Valley to meet with store owners along the Orange Bus Line. They are keenly interested if our newfound presence is having a positive economic impact on their businesses. They can also be found at West Los Angeles Neighborhood Watch meetings, passing out brochures and touting our enforcement. Like our patrol officers, SLOs work rotating schedules, reaching out to our citizens at all hours of the night, and bringing a moment of reprieve and levity to our commuters’ long work days. You will find our SLOs conducting ambassador-like duties at Union Station, the main hub and heart of the METRO rail line. They pass out baseball cards, brochures, and ensure extra time to address commuting concerns. They have become our single-best resource in awakening our citizens to the benefits of mass transit and are helping spark curious interest in visiting parts of the City never ventured. Transit Services Division and METRO are breaking down barriers once hampered by distance. Our myriad of diverse, segmented localities is forming new bonds of friendship and helping create one large and unique community.

Unfortunately, life can be a hard journey for many of the Angelenos who frequent our rail and bus lines. Rather than marginalize these individuals, TSD is taking steps to improve their lives. Officers in our Homeless Outreach Proactive Engagement (HOPE) unit – another of Chief Beck’s landmark programs – are working hard to provide comfort, support, and transitional housing for those who are in need. You will find our HOPE officers at the Hollywood and Highland substation identifying runaways and addicted juveniles who are looking for a way out from their depths of despair. Our HOPE officers also work closely with Veterans Affairs and other similar groups to identify those heroes whose war-torn experiences have left them ill-equipped to handle daily life activities. Finally, mentally ill pedestrians occupying the concrete passageways of Union Station are now receiving the assistance of a HOPE officer with the promise of a warm bed and counseling. What a tremendous and positive impact it brings to METRO’s commuters when they see members of our HOPE unit assisting the City’s most dependent people.

Transit Services Division has embraced the challenge set forth to us by the METRO. As downtown Los Angeles grows and prospers, there is a need to make public transportation a safe and comfortable haven for all. Walk through Union Station’s east passenger tunnel and look up at the exquisite mural, “City of Dreams/River of History,” by artist Richard Wyatt. The people in that rendering are the everyday commuters you will find sitting among you on our great city’s bus benches and railway cars. They are the everyday Angelenos that the LAPD, and the officers of your new TSD, have sworn to protect and serve.

[1] Carino, Meghan. 2018. Half Year After Metro Policy Changes, More Serious Crimes Reported. 89.3KPCC.org. https://www.scpr.org/news/2018/02/08/80618/half-year-after-metro-policing-changes-more-seriou/

[2] Metro Interactive Estimated Ridership Stats, February 2017-2018. http://isotp.metro.net/MetroRidership/Index.aspx

Lieutenant Allen Schubert is a 20-year veteran of the LAPD. He received a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Bowling Green State University; a Master of Forensic Science, Specialization in Investigation from National University; and Master of Intelligence Studies, Capstone Option from American Public University. This entry is the first of a series on the LAPD’s response to safeguarding public transportation within the City of Los Angeles.

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