Crime skyrockets on LA Metro system, including a jump in drug deaths

The incidents of violent crime, illicit drug use and people dying from drug overdoses on the LA Metro transit system skyrocketed in 2022, leaving board members saying that the alarming trend should be treated as an emergency to be addressed immediately.

In 2022, the most serious crimes, such as rape, aggravated assault, robbery and murder increased by 24%  compared to 2021, while less serious crimes rose by 14% over the same time period, reported Gina Osborn, LA Metro safety officer, as part of an update to the Metro Board on Thursday, Feb. 23.

This included a stabbing death at the Pershing Square B (Red) Line station in November. It was followed by a fatal stabbing at the Westlake/MacArthur Metro rail station on Jan. 31, 2023.

The transit agency also experienced a 99% increase in year-over-year complaints from transit riders of passengers possessing or using illegal drugs while on buses, trains or platforms, Osborn reported.

In raw numbers, Metro received 1,385 incident reports of narcotics use, possession or sales via the Metro Transit Watch app, used by customers to report incidents on their smartphones.

The system is seeing an increase in people who die aboard trains or buses.

In 2022, there were 21 fatalities reported systemwide. But the number of fatalities in 2023 has already reached 21, the number for all of last year, Osborn reported.

“We have had 21 deaths already. It is remarkably higher,” she told the board.

One reason could be more people dying from fentanyl poisoning, she said, although the data received from the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office does not list the type of drugs that caused the deaths. However, she said the majority of deaths are drug-related.

“To me, this sounds like an emergency,” said Whittier City Council member and Metro board member Fernando Dutra.

Paul Krekorian, a member of the Los Angeles City Council and a Metro board member, said the drug deaths could be part of the epidemic of deaths from fentanyl. Since 2016, the number of fentanyl overdoses in the county has increased by 1,200%.

But he said deaths on a train, where individuals and families are riding and may have witnessed the death, presents a trauma that is unique. It can also turn riders away from using Metro in the future.

“This is one of the most sobering reports in my time,” Krekorian said. “A (near) 25% increase in crime. And a (near) 100% increase in drug reports. This is an existential threat to the Metro system.”

The number of crimes in 2022, broken down by train line, are as follows: A Line (Blue), 388; B Line (Red) 687; C Line (Green) 202; E Line (Expo) 261; G Line (Orange) 52; J Line (Silver) 21, K Line 1; L Line (Gold) 192.

Osborn will present an updated safety patrol system at the March Metro board meeting. She hopes to add more transit security officers, Metro’s own safety patrol personnel, to the system.

Just looking at arrests on the lines patrolled by the Los Angeles Police Department, out of 109 people arrested last year, 107 could not show proof that they paid the fare. “The majority of criminals caught on our system cannot show proof of paying fares,” she said.

Osborn said the next set of safety contracts will address how the LAPD and Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department patrol the stations and bus lines. Of the 109 L.A. Sheriff deputy patrols, only 16 get out of their cars and ride the trains or buses, she said.

“If they are not riding, what are they doing in their cars?” asked Los Angeles County Fifth District Supervisor and Metro board member Kathryn Barger. Osborn said some LASD car patrols follow buses or are responsible for up to three train stations.

“When we look at crimes on the Red Line (B) or Blue Line (A), it would be more helpful if we had more visibility on the system itself,” she said.

Krekorian said he was concerned about the Red Line (B) attracting the most incidents of crime. “My eyes popped seeing those Red Line numbers. The Red Line is the backbone for the entire transit system for the San Fernando Valley,” he said.

Osborn said new patrols use a multi-layered approach including a 24/7 presence, with a combination of law enforcement, Metro officers or Metro Transit Ambassadors, who are more focused on customer service and reporting suspicious activity to law enforcement, or to 9-1-1.

The other elements include: adding swing gates to prevent people from jumping the turnstiles and using closed circuit TV to beam images to law enforcement or Metro transit officers.

“The public is relying on us to solve this problem, and it is not easy. But we have to do it,” said Pomona Mayor and Metro Board member Tim Sandoval.

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