LACMTA reconstitutes in-agency police force to protect workers, riders

June 28, 2024

GCA-875 represents workers for both Los Angeles County Metro Transportation Authority’s bus and train services and stands as the SMART Transportation Division’s largest bus/transit property.

Saying that the thousands of people in those five locals represented by General Chairperson John Ellis and his team have been through things that people should not have to go through while on the job would be an understatement.

In recent months, a LACMTA bus operator has been held at gunpoint by a hijacker, with the incident ending with the bus hitting multiple vehicles and a downtown hotel.

Members have been stabbed while in service. Passengers have been killed aboard LACMTA buses and trains. Neither rider nor worker could deny that getting from here to there was an experience not without apprehension.

Enough was enough.

Union effort brings true security back for our members

SMART-TD officers attend the board meeting June 27 when the LACMTA board approved the creation of a Transit Community Safety Department. From left are: Local 1563 Chairperson Jaime Delgadillo; Local Chairperson 1607/GCA-875 Secretary Julio Mejia; GCA-875 General Chairperson John M. Ellis; Vice General Chairperson and Local 1565 Chairperson Quintin Wormley; Local 1564 Chairperson Andy Carter and Local 1605 Chairperson Juan Gonzalez, who represents rail members. (Not pictured is Edgar Menendez, Local 1608 chairperson.)

The media publicity and outrage surrounding the violent events aboard LACMTA and the outspokenness of our union members and leadership finally helped to turn the tide with the people who could do the most.

On June 27, the Los Angeles County MTA’s board voted unanimously to create an “in-house” police agency called the Transit Community Safety Department to serve and protect SMART-TD members and the people who use LACMTA.

“It’s a victorious day,” GC Ellis said in a letter to members announcing the board’s actions. “Too often incidents aboard Metro vehicles have compromised your lives and dissuaded residents from riding the bus and rail services. Maintaining the status quo was NOT an option.” 

Meetings by union leaders with L.A. County Superintendent Janice Hahn and Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass spelled out precisely what the union’s stance was — that a dedicated department focused on security was needed to ensure safety for everyone aboard LACMTA, which serves 900,000 passengers daily and is the third-largest transit agency in the U.S.

Change will take time and collaboration between union and LACMTA

To that end, rather than LACMTA being dependent on support from the LAPD and county Sheriff’s Department, the Transit Community Safety Department would fully control safety priorities and better commit resources to where our members, in conjunction with agency leadership, say they are needed the most. More than 400 sworn-in transit safety officers would be in the department and collaborate with LACMTA’s transit ambassadors, as well as with specialists in crisis intervention and homeless outreach.

A unanimous vote by board members present at the meeting created a security force for LACMTA on June 27.

While the action taken by the board June 27, along with the prior approval of barriers to protect operators, is a definitive path toward a safer direction, GC Ellis stressed to members that the change will need time to take effect — at least three to five years, according to agency estimates.

“We look forward to working with CEO Stephanie Wiggins and management to make this proposal a reality,” Ellis said. “We understand that establishing your own police agency will take years to ensure it works effectively and as swiftly as possible.

“Nevertheless, we will continue to campaign to keep our members — Metro’s frontline heroes — as safe as possible. The union wishes to express our sincere appreciation for the forward steps the board took today to create a safer environment for our members and for the riding public.”

An example other agencies and unions can follow

Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson congratulated GCA-875 on their success. But the need to improve safety in Los Angeles or at the other bus and transit properties the union represents isn’t going to disappear.

“LACMTA is a huge property with a lot going on and a lot to track — there are only two others in the country that are bigger operations,” he said. “The headlines that we’ve seen coming out of Los Angeles have been hard to stomach, and sadly the violent incidents that have happened there aren’t exclusive to there. They happen all around the country on multiple properties we represent. It’s why we’ve had to create an internal Bus and Transit Assault Prevention and Safety committee.

“John Ellis and his team have shown that our union gets things done for our bus and transit members. We all know that it’s not going to get better for our people unless we as a union lead the way and make it better. I congratulate GCA-875 on this accomplishment and being an example of great leadership.”