Sheriff Says He’ll Yank 325 Deputies from Metro if Not Given Full Control

“We’re not going to bid for the role of being overpaid security,” L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said during a Wednesday news conference

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva on Wednesday threatened to pull his deputies from patrolling Metro’s transit system unless his department is granted total control over policing the agency’s trains and buses.

Since 2017, the sheriff’s department has been splitting the policing duties with the Los Angeles and Long Beach police departments, but that contract is set to expire on July 1, the Los Angeles Times reports. Under the current 5-year contract, the LAPD patrols a majority of the transit system, while 325 sheriff’s deputies are responsible for roughly a third of it, and the Long Beach Police Department oversees a small 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. “I have three jobs waiting for every single person assigned to the MTA right now.”

Villanueva also said he plans to do the job with less money. He claimed the department’s contract proposal will employ roughly 600 deputies for $30 million less annually than what the Metro board currently pays for the same level of staffing, the Times reports.

It’s unclear how Villanueva would be able to do this without significantly disrupting other areas of the department. He later said that due to a hiring freeze imposed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the agency is approaching 1,000 vacancies.

Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, who is also chair of the Metro board, said splitting patrol responsibilities among three law enforcement 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.”

In order to have time to develop a new system for policing the transit system, the Metro board recently approved an extension for the current three-agency contract for up to a year. However, it’s unclear whether Villanueva will refuse to participate, the Times reports.

The sheriff didn’t consult LAPD Chief Michel Moore before announcing his ultimatum at the news conference. Moore said that the current contract “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, adding that his officers have been monitoring “trains, platforms, and buses diligently each and every day around the clock.”

Metro’s board in December increased its law enforcement contract budgets, but has been discussing for years how it can move toward a more community-based approach for public safety, including considering unarmed ambassadors to work at stations and handle nonviolent reports, NBC4 reports.

Villanueva has criticized the ambassador scheme, pointing to several violent incidents that have occurred at transit stations since September 2020, when two deputies were shot in an ambush.

“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.”

Responding to the ultimatum, Supervisor Kathryn Barger said, “Sheriff Villanueva and I are on the same page when it comes to supporting a law enforcement presence at our public transit systems… However, the ‘all-or-nothing’ approach that he voiced may serve to question his greater commitment to public safety and collaboration,” according to ABC7.

Following the news conference, Villanueva issued a “clarification,” saying, “At no time was I casting any dispersions upon the (LAPD officers’ union) Los Angeles Police Protective League and the Los Angeles Police Department,” NBC4 reports. “My comments were directed at the decisions made by the city of Los Angeles and the MTA board and is no way a reflection on the brave men and women of the LAPPL and LAPD, who do an incredible job for the Angelenos they protect and serve.”

Villanueva’s demand arrives roughly a week after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to strip the sheriff of his power to terminate deputies who don’t follow vaccine mandates.

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