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Metro Extends Sheriff Contract 6 Months; What’s In Metro Policing’s Future?

Los Angeles County Sheriffs have, at least anecdotally, had an increased presence on Metro in recent months.

Last Thursday, Metro’s policing contract decision was postponed in favor of a 6-month extension of the current L.A. County Sheriffs Department contract. Photo of Sheriff deputy on Wilshire Bus in September 2014. Photo by Dana Gabbard/Streetsblog L.A.

Last week, the Metro Board of Directors finally took action on its repeatedly-extended, repeatedly-about-to-expire contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD).

Metro approved a $44.44 million 6-month extension of the $83 million annual contract covering policing for its entire bus and rail transportation networks. This is the eleventh modification of the contract; most of those modifications have been to extend the current contract, which has been in place since 2009.

The extension kicks the ultimate contract decision down the road to a new set of Metro directors, as supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina will be replaced by Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, respectively. There will also be a newly-elected L.A. County Sheriff: former Long Beach police chief Jim McDonnell.

The extension also, for better or for worse, puts some time between contract deliberations and the recent LASD audit. Ostensibly, it gives the LASD six months to fix problems identified by the audit, or perhaps enough time for any heat generated by the audit’s criticism to dissipate.

In April 2014, Metro received the results of its audit of LASD policing work. Both Metro and LASD’s Transit Services Bureau (TSB) wrote official responses to the audit; the agency responses were included as attachments in a June 2014 final report. Though a 4-page board report summarizing the roughly 200-page LASD audit document was soon made available, it took some persistence to obtain the actual public document. Transit advocate Dana Gabbard obtained and posted the audit here. Gabbard also penned this article previewing Metro’s September 4 board meeting to receive and file the audit.

At that September meeting, Metro’s Inspector General staff asserted that the audit, not yet posted to Metro’s website, was publicly available, as anyone could file a public records request to obtain it. The Metro board differed, directing staff to post the full public document online. After that meeting, Metro posted a revised version [PDF].

Though there was media coverage at the time, much of it more-or-less summarized the summaries, rarely going into detail regarding issues raised. Largely missing was LASD TSB’s responses on items where they differed with auditors. Press included:

  • The L.A. Register stated, “Auditors made 50 recommendations to correct or improve deficiencies in nearly every performance area, including staffing, billing, strategic planning, communications, oversight, and achievement of goals.”
  • In July, the L.A. Times ran highlights of audit findings regarding crime statistics, fare evasion, and staffing issues.
  • After the September Board meeting, the Times ran a follow-up article stating, “Their blistering [LASD Audit] report found a host of management and safety problems over the last five years of contracted service” and that “Sheriff’s Department officials [...] are working to correct the issues raised in the audit.”
  • July coverage at County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s website outlined that the audit “faulted the Sheriff on a number of fronts, including lack of a community-policing plan for the nation’s third-largest bus and rail system, perennial staff vacancies, tardy responses to citizen complaints, and inadequate records to support its billings” but assured readers that “reforms already are underway.”

Metro staff reporting on the audit have been similarly opaque about audit responses. Here is a chart showing how the agency is complying with audit recommendations:

Metro is about xx percent done address issues raised in their audit of LASD transit policing performance. From Metro Staff Report September 2014

Metro is about 50 percent done addressing issues raised in their audit of LASD transit policing performance. Which 50 percent have been addressed is not indicated. From Metro Staff Report September 2014

The brief September staff report shows various percentages of work completed and in progress, with no supporting documentation indicating which audit items have been completed and which remain.

So, what’s in that audit?  Read more…

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Days of Dialogue Opens Conversation on Police-Community Relations in South L.A., Gets an Earful

"Hands Up, Don't Shoot" Friends and family members of Ezell Ford shoot a music video decrying police brutality. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” Friends and family members of Ezell Ford shoot a music video decrying police brutality. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Dialogue was great, said a young man from Youth Justice Coalition as we left the Days of Dialogue on Police-Community Relations in the Aftermath of Ezell Ford and Michael Brown event held at Dr. Maya Angelou High School in South L.A. last night, but what he cared about was action.

It seemed to be a sentiment shared by many of the approximately 200 people that participated in the conversation hosted by 9th District City Councilmember Curren Price and Days of Dialogue, an organization founded in 1995, in the wake of the O.J. Simpson verdict.

The sentiment was particularly strong among the youth. They see themselves reflected in the cases of Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Omar Abrego (a graphic video of Abrego on the ground can be seen here) and, most recently, Clifford Alford, the young man mistakenly identified as a potential robbery suspect and brutally beaten by police while handcuffed on October 16, just two blocks from the school where the event was held. And they are tired of fearing that they could be next.

But these frustrations with law enforcement and fears of being victimized by those who feel at liberty to abuse their authority are nothing new.

When Patricia, the facilitator at the table where I sat with a dozen community members, asked us to give voice some of these concerns, she didn’t have to ask twice.

Helen, an African-American woman in her 70s and a life-long resident of South L.A., related a story about having stopped to ask the police for directions because she was lost only to have them run her plates instead.

“I didn’t ask them for that,” she said wryly.

She then went on to describe how her mother had sat her and her siblings down while they were still little kids to tell them that, because of the color of their skin, they would always have to make sure to move slowly and keep their hands visible at all times when interacting with the police.

For another young African-American mother at the table, those lessons still resonate today. During a recent routine traffic stop, she said, she had panicked and stepped out of the car with her hands up, announcing that there were babies inside.

“Kids move so fast and they’re not good at keeping still,” she explained. She had been afraid that any sudden movements the kids made might have prompted officers to open fire first and ask questions later (as happened recently in South Carolina, when a trooper shot a man after instructing him to retrieve his license).

To someone who has never experienced profiling or had a negative encounter with law enforcement, those sorts of reactions might seem like paranoia or even bias on the part of the speakers. For the participants in the dialogue, however, it was clear their apprehension and distrust might be better described as a trained response to years’ and years’ worth of, as participants put it, being “terrorized,” “pre-judged,” “abused,” “disrespected,” “harassed,” and “left unprotected” by officers. Read more…

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Video: Vigil Calls on D.A. Jackie Lacey for Justice for Slain Cyclist Milt Olin

Watch Nathan Lucero’s excellent short video documenting last week’s ride and vigil for justice for Milt Olin. Streetsblog readers are familiar with the sad story of how, on December 8th, 2014, Los Angeles County Sheriff Deputy Andrew Wood, while typing on his on-board computer, ran over and killed cyclist Milton Olin.

In late August, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey decided not prosecute Wood. For the time being, L.A.’s streets are a little more dangerous for everyone.

The story is not over yet. See the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition website for details on how you can contact D.A. Lacey and urge her to prosecute Deputy Wood.

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Eyes on the Street: Milton Olin Ride and Vigil Demands D.A. Justice

Milton Olin Ride passes Echo Park. All photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Yesterday’s Justice for Milt Olin Ride #rideformilt passes Echo Park. All photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Yesterday, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, Yield to Life, and Ghost Bikes hosted a ride and vigil for Milton Olin. Olin was bicycling in a Calabasas bike lane when County Sheriff Deputy Andrew Wood drove into the bike lane and ended Olin’s life. The sheriff was distracted, typing a non-emergency message on his on-board computer. Last week, eight months after the crash, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey declined to prosecute the killer, stating that Wood’s distracted driving constituted “reasonable behavior.”

Yesterday’s ride started at the crash site in Calabasas, and rode 30 miles to the D.A.’s headquarters in downtown L.A. Roughly 75 riders were on the ride as it entered downtown, and the number swelled to roughly 125 for the vigil at Grand Park.

LACBC submitted this letter (read it – it is excellent and thorough in outlining appropriate measures to prosecute Wood for his deadly behavior) and are encouraging others concerned to write to D.A. Lacey to demand she prosecute Olin’s killer. The D.A. can be reached at webmail@da.lacounty.gov.

For links to media coverage of yesterday’s ride and vigil, check these articles from SBLA headlines: CBS, ABCLA Times, LA Register, and Daily News. See also earlier SBLA coverage of this outrageous killing and the inexcusable lack of prosecution. More photos after the jump.  Read more…

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Tonight at 7: Damien Appears on Which Way L.A. Discussing the Milt Olin Crash

wwla

At 7 p.m. this evening, cyclists will be pedaling to the County District Attorney’s Office for a vigil honoring Milt Olin. Olin is the cyclist killed by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Wood while cycling legally in a bicycle lane along Mulholland Highway in Calabasas on the afternoon of December 8th.

At roughly the same time, KCRW’s news/talk show Which Way L.A. will air an interview with local public safety officials and myself discussing the crash, the investigation, the D.A.’s decision not to press charges, and where we go from here. There’s no word on who else will be joining Warren Olney and myself, but I’m sure we will have a lively discussion.

(UPDATE: I just completed the interview. I was joined by LADOT Bicycle Coordinator Michelle Mowery and David Teater of the National Safety Council.)

The interview will be broadcast at 89.9 on the F.M. dial and at the KCRW website. We will provide a direct link to the interview in tomorrow’s “Today’s Headlines” post.

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Metro Board Will Discuss Sheriff Audit Reports and Shortcomings on Thursday

Thursday at noon the Metro Board is holding a workshop on the recent audit of the security contract it has with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD). The unit of the LASD that handles the contract is known as Metro Transit Services which has an online presence on Facebook, Twitter and nixle.

To read the report, click ##http://www.scribd.com/doc/238287478/Los-Angeles-County-Sheriff-s-Department-Contract-Audit-Report-May-2014##here.##

To read the report, click here.

In 1997 Metro’s Police Department was replaced by a partnership of the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Then in 2003 when it was due to be renewed LASD was able to freeze out the LADP and take over the entire contract, which they have held since that time via periodic renewals. For the period of July 2013-June 2014 LASD received $83,855,638 for the contract.

Earlier this year, I was elated to learn (via this comment made by taipan85 to my piece on the Metro fare restructuring proposal) that an audit was underway in response to a motion (#21) made in June 2013 by then Metro Board member Mel Wilson. At that time, Wilson was chair of the Metro Finance, Budget and Audit Committee. Wilson stated that in the prior year various troubling Sheriff’s Department items came before his committee, so he decided that a thorough audit was called for to see if other aspects of the LASD’s performance were similarly inadequate.

The establishment of the partnership and then the LASD getting the entire contract were during the years I attended Metro Board meetings. As I watched this unfold, it became clear that the entire process was extremely political and had little to do with providing the best policing services for Metro patrons. The audit and the follow-up peer review, facilitated at the request of Metro CEO Art Leahy, by the American Public Transportation Association (a trade group), confirm my long-held suspicions of how poorly the LASD has been fulfilling the contract.

It is dismaying that the staff report for the meeting Thursday glosses over the depth of the problems with claims of recent improvements and opportunities. This begs the question: would these recent improvements have occurred if Wilson had not requested the audit? Read more…

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Milton Olin’s Killer Escapes Charges. A Broken System Cries for Change.

Last night, Brenda Gazaar broke the story in the Daily News that the District Attorney will not be pressing charges against Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Wood, who struck and killed Milt Olin from behind with his car while Olin was riding his bicycle in the bike lane. Olin, a former Napster executive and lawyer, was riding legally and safely in the bicycle lane on the 22400 block of Mulholland Highway in Calabasas.

Olin is pictured in his cycling gear with sons Chris, left, and Geoff

Olin is pictured in his cycling gear with sons Chris, left, and Geoff

Reaction from safety advocates, critics of the scandal-plagued Sheriff’s Department and bicyclists was swift on social media. The department’s internal investigation showed that Wood was typing non-emergency messages on his on-board computer when his car veered into the bicycle lane at high enough speed to strike Olin and send him flying over his handlebars.

I share their outrage, and the investigation into Wood’s killing of Olin has been under fire from the moment the Sheriff’s Department declined to pass the investigation off to the California Highway Patrol, but the burden of proof to convict a peace officer who kills someone with a vehicle is so high that even a well-ordered investigation may have yielded the same results.

The system is broken.

Maybe a review of the D.A. will overturn the initial ruling and a criminal trial will occur. Even if that’s the case, there’s going to be a high standard for Wood to face justice.

The system is broken.

Gazaar explains: Read more…

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LASD Sheriff Strikes and Kills Cyclist in Bike Lane with Police Cruiser

mojr

Milton Olin Jr., from his LinkedIn account.

Milton Olin Jr., former chief operating officer of music-sharing site Napster and Hollywood Attorney, died Sunday when his bicycle was struck by a Sheriff’s Deputy’s patrol car at the 22000 block of Mulholland Highway. LASD confirms that Olin was in the bicycle lane at the time of the collision.

Both the driver and bicyclist were traveling east on Mulholland at the time of the crash. The LASD Cruiser has a cracked windshield, suggesting that the car hit Olin from behind at a high rate of speed. The LASD reports that the windshied was cracked when Olin’s body was thown onto the Hood. Olin was pronounced dead at the scene.

At this point, the Sheriff’s investigating the crash have not released the name of the driver, who was on duty and not responding to an emergency call at the time of the crash. The deputy was taken to the hospital for cuts and bruises. As one would expect when a cyclist is killed by unsafe driving, there have not been charges filed.

As a quick experiment, I ran a News Google search on “Milton Olin.” As you would expect, dozens of stories detailing how he was killed by a Sheriff’s deputy immediately filled my screen. I ran the same search but added the word “suspect.”

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 10.34.00 AM

Surprise, surprise.

Read more…

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“You Don’t Belong Here:” Reverse* Profiling. Yep, it’s a Thing.

Meet Sahra (mixed-race) and her bike, both of whom are apparent menaces to society. (photo: Sarah Nikolovska)

“Hi,” a voice alongside me said tersely.

I turned my head to see a Sheriff’s car rolling slowly down 92nd Street in Watts with me.

The white deputy in the passenger seat who was sizing me up appeared highly displeased with whatever conclusion she had come to.

They were way too close, I thought.

Something was up.

“Do you need something?” I asked, figuring it was best to get right to it.

“No, we’re just saying ‘Hi,’” she said.

“Bullsh*t does not become you,” I thought, as the car swerved suddenly for the curb, cutting me off without warning and surprising the hell out of me. Had I been going any faster, I might actually have flipped my bicycle over their front end.

The white deputy got out and began aggressively firing questions as she moved closer to me.

“What are you doing here?”

“Are you on parole?”

“Are you on probation?”

“Have you ever been arrested?”

“Are you sure you’ve never been arrested?”

“What are you doing here?”

“Do you have any identification?”

“What are you doing here?”

Her level of aggression was so wildly disproportionate to the situation that it took me a second to get my head in the game.

My first thought was, “Calm down and take a step back, sister. You can’t possibly be serious.”

She was so inappropriately aggressive, in fact, I actually started laughing when she asked me if I had ever been arrested. I couldn’t help it — it was like being verbally assaulted by a cartoon character. Or a kid playing cops and robbers. Or a really bad actor in a terrible B movie.

“So this really is how y’all do it, huh?” I thought. “It goes down exactly like everyone says it does. This is freaking amazing.”**

She was not nearly as amused as I was.

She now had her hand ready for action on her belt at her hip and her partner (a Hispanic woman) had gotten out of the car and was standing behind her, off to my left.

Sh*t was getting real. Read more…

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Meet Sheriff Teufel, the Social Media Star Who Can’t Figure out Sharrows

Hi everyone, meet Officer Teufel, a social media star from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Teufel’s claim to fame is not only mis-understanding traffic laws as they relate to bicyclists, but riding dangerously close to a cyclist to mis-explain the law and giving a baffling counter-intuitive explanation for what a Sharrow is.

Now to be fair, the Sheriff doesn’t ticket or physically harass the cyclist/videographer but his repeated attempts to shout explanations at the cyclist does make for at least an amusing video.

The fun really starts at the 1:14 mark when Teufel instructs the cyclist, who is riding directly through the middle of several Sharrows, to ride farther to the right. For those interested, you can watch an SUV run a red light just seconds before Officer Teufel defends the right to drive quickly to their two-wheeled oppressors.

As is true with many officers, Teufel confuses the traffic requirement that cyclists “ride as far to the right as practical” with “ride as far to the right as physically possible.” Of course, the Sheriff doesn’t seem impressed with the cyclists’ pleas that he is following the law, he continually harasses the cyclist with warnings not to impede traffic.

The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition succinctly explains the difference between what Teufel thinks is the law and what is actually the law. Read more…