Is There a Lesson from This Weekend’s Killing on the Red Line

On Friday night, a fight between two men on the Red Line heading towards Hollywood ended tragically with 59 year old Jesse Garay lying dead in the train with the man who killed him standing over his fallen body.

The murderer fled the train, and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Office, who polices Metro trains, buses and stations is still looking for leads.

One of the issues Streetsblog has with coverage of deadly automobile crashes is that the media tends to treat the crashes as the inevitable by product of living in the city.  Unless there is a telegenic family member or friend pushing for change in enforcement or infrastructure, the story dies in a day.

Apparently the same is true of murders on trains.

Metro Subways have run for seventeen years before anyone committed murder on the train, but this tragedy provides a chance to review security on and around the train to see if improvements are needed.  Indeed, I have yet to run across any media coverage of the killing that has asked any questions of Metro’s security.  After all, the killer and slain person had a lengthy fight that accelerated before a hunting knife was drawn.

The Sheriffs – L.A. County Sheriffs are the police agency charged with keeping Metro trains, buses and properties safe.  The Sheriffs have long been accused of being more concerned with checking people’s fares, and harassing regular travelers everytime there’s a TAP “upgrade” creates chaos.

On Saturday night, when having armed, trained security with arrest powers would have been life saving, the Sheriffs were nowhere to be seen.  If passenger safety is truly the top concern, shouldn’t there be more Sheriffs on off-peak, later hour trains and less when the trains are crowded and filled with professionals?

Cell Phones – Having cell phone coverage for Metro Subway probably wouldn’t have prevented the murder, but it might have helped apprehend the suspect.  And hey, New York has already figured out how to provide cell service underground.

 Cameras – If I try to film a Streetfilm at an Orange Line Station, a voice from on high yells at me until I stop because Metro can watch me on a camera.  But inside the subway, there is no camera system to catch the face of the potential killers.

Fare Gates – Back when the Metro Board of Directors was heroically saving Angelenos from terrorists by requiring the terrorists to pay $1.50 before they could get on a train, then-CEO Roger Snoble hinted that the agency would be able to add other features to the gates including x-ray scans.  When a passenger is murdered by someone wielding a hunting knife, you can expect some discussion of spending even more on those incredibly useful gates.

There has only been one death on L.A.’s Subways due to murder, but that doesn’t mean that Metro, or the Sheriffs, are doing everything they can to keep the subways safe.  It will be interesting to see if there are any changes coming or proposed for Metro Rail.

(Thanks to thedudeabides for kicking my butt into gear on this one.)

  • Anonymous

    Awaiting the mass hysteria that will inevitably erupt over this. Well over 3,000 vehicle-related fatalities a year in this state (*NHTSA), yet give me one death on a subway and half the population will casually flaunt their superior intelligence in avoiding the dangers of using public transportation.

  • Naomi2you

    the homicide was on friday night not saturday

  • The questions you raise are valid and Sheriff’s deputies may have been “nowhere to be seen,” at the time of the murder but it seems reactionary to make such a quick condemnation of the department because there weren’t uniformed officers either on the same car as the suspect and victim or on the platform for the fleeing suspect to run into.

  • LAofAnaheim

    Police – “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. Never get any love. People love to hate ’em, but then demand where they are when chaos happens. What a tough profession.

  • Anonymous

    X-ray scans in the (unattended) turnstiles (Please stop calling them Fare Gates!)?

    Oh, so LA Metro can kill me slowly so as to save me from some loons with chains and knives who pissed-off each other?  Ever seen anyone die from cancer?

  • Anonymous

    X-ray scans in the (unattended) turnstiles (Please stop calling them Fare Gates!)?

    Oh, so LA Metro can kill me slowly so as to save me from some loons with chains and knives who pissed-off each other?  Ever seen anyone die from cancer?

  • Anonymous

    X-ray scans in the (unattended) turnstiles (Please stop calling them Fare Gates!)?

    Oh, so LA Metro can kill me slowly so as to save me from some loons with chains and knives who pissed-off each other?  Ever seen anyone die from cancer?

  • Anonymous

    “Metro Subways have run for seventeen years before anyone committed murder on the train”  

    Is this statement correct for the entire system, the entire rail system or just the Red (and Purple) HRT line(s)?

  • Anonymous

    “Metro Subways have run for seventeen years before anyone committed murder on the train”  

    Is this statement correct for the entire system, the entire rail system or just the Red (and Purple) HRT line(s)?

  • Anonymous

    “Metro Subways have run for seventeen years before anyone committed murder on the train”  

    Is this statement correct for the entire system, the entire rail system or just the Red (and Purple) HRT line(s)?

  • Yuri

    Adding cell phone coverage in the subway is the least Metro could do.  I bet someone would have taken photos and video of the events with their phone. Video cameras in the train should also be installed, but they would have to be maintained.   On that same night I was in the Wilshire/Vermont station and none of the monitors I saw were functional.

  • Anonymous

    If concern for our transportation safety necessitates x-ray scanners at subway turnstiles, given the vastly greater number of deaths on on the freeway, it seems only logical that we begin our quest for safety with license, sobriety and cellphone checkpoints at every freeway on-ramp. Am I wrong?

  • Guest

    This was the first homicide on the red/purple line since it opened in 1993.  Check out this witness’ blog….

    http://toddmartens.tumblr.com/post/9258465894/somebody-got-murdered-and-this-is-all-i-remember

  • Readers might find this 1997 journal article about safety on the the Washington Metro interesting. 

    PDF: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/166372.pdf
    Plaintext: https://www.ncjrs.gov/txtfiles/166372.txt

  • Peeeeceeee

    When you cram people together in tight quarters every day for years and years on end, inevitably two or more of these people will fight or do worse. One murder in seventeen years is surprisingly low (this is obviously not to discount how awfully significant it is to the late Jesse Garay, his family, the witnesses, etc.) and while it’s always appropriate to discuss how a transit agency can better protect its passengers, I have to say that it comes off a bit hysterical to go looking for somebody to *blame * for a random murder in a public place other than the idiot who committed it.

    Do you seriously want a Deputy on every car forever? X-rays or metal detectors beeping every time somebody tries to carry a metal object–like, oh, I don’t know, a set of bike tools–on to a subway car?

    Of the “solutions” being floated here, the most useful one would be cellular service. But it should be noted that, contrary to what one of the commenters here seemed to suggest, the lack of such service did not prevent anyone from taking pictures or videos of the murder or the murderer. The camera in a typical mobile phone works whether or not there is cellular service.

  • Yuri

    Yes that’s true.  What I meant is that someone would have been taking images in real time, rather than having to wait until they got cellular service.

  • Yuri

     I mean broadcasting images.

  • Anonymous

    All the Red/Purple Line cars do have interior video cameras installed. Now we will find out if they are actual working cameras and how high quality they are.

  • Me

    In the past I rode the red line every single day to and from work. During that time, I saw more than one occurrence of a packed train + people trying to move around which lead to someone getting “hit” or “pushed” in a way they did not like and then a subsequent emotional explosion, screaming, yelling and generally making others on the train feel uncomfortable. When metro was notified through their train intercom system, even during rush hour, sheriffs did not show up for 20+ minutes, with the ppl screaming, yelling and threatening each other in the meantime.

    There was one incident in particular where the people continues to scream at each other, throwing down their bags and I stood at the intercom narrating each thing that happened and still, no sheriff for 20 min. I can’t imagine that experience I had was the first or last time that happened. There is a lot of space between having a sheriff in every car at all times at least showing up in 5 or even 10 min after a call is made during rush hour.

  • Bobbie

    As someone who rides the train a lot, I can definitely say that if you ever see a deputy on any train beyond 7th and Metro after 7:00 p.m. you are at best amazed. Those cameras in the stations, well I’ve seen people do everything from smoke (legal and illegal products), eat food and use the place (especially vine street) as a toilet. Does anyone come over the loud speaker and say anything? Of course not. If I didn’t know any better I’d swear it was all about the status of playing security on the train than actually doing it.

  • I have never even noticed thos cameras.  Thanks, TAPman.

  • Lord, the last thing I would want would be one on every car, but as “Me” suggested above (after you commented) the presence of Sheriffs during off peak hours is pretty rare.

  • The dude abides

    Two points:

    1) I brought this issue up because it is always a good idea to address the cost/benefit/safety issues that metro has. I feel metro or the sherrifs could focus less on fare evasion and more on patrolling and general presence. I don’t think it can prevent every incident, but safety is important to all transit users. Being in an uderground space ir in a packed subway with few options to get out heightens the perceived safety of transit users. Statistically I am sure the numbers show that traveling on the metro is safe. But if one of the goals is to capture discretionary users than they will need to feel as safe as they do in their cars( yes someone has already mentioned deaths due to accidents but that is not the same as being safe from crime)

    2) I am suprised at the willful ignorance by Metro in dealing with these issues. They clearly take a head in the sand approach. Not one word was mentioned by their PR team nor their quasi independent blog. A few months ago there was a similar incident on a bus but we did not hear one word from them. As an agency they should be touting safety and addressing incidents like this to provide a better user experience. Damion made it sound like a one off event that was an exeption and not a pattern but the first homicide on the red line should be discussed.

  • cph

    I’d like to see the Sherriff’s deputies more visible. No we don’t need an armed escort in every car, every trip. Just patrol more, actually check fares (don’t just stand around chatting with each other) and be ready to respond to incidents on the train if a passenger uses the emergency intercom.

    Cell service in the tunnel would be helpful, unless there wasa BART-like situation where the agency shut it off….

  • Peeeeceeee

    Yuri–that’s true, but to whom would you broadcast these pictures in real time? Or, rather, who exactly would receive them in time to, say, physically intercept and capture a fleeing attacker before he makes it from the door of the train to the street? Not that this is impossible, but at the very least there would have to be a number to which people could send the pics/video as an MMS. And there would have to be people monitoring that number in real time, and able to convey the crime info along with the images to the deputies in the stations, while weeding out pranks or cry-wolf messages regarding minor or non-violent infractions. And, of course, people would have to know the number, and be level-headed enough in the heat of the moment to text (MMS) those images right away.

    This isn’t to dismiss the potential public safety value of cellular service in subway tunnels, but just to point out that the ability to send images from network-connected mobile devices in real time, rather than a few minutes later, is probably being way overvalued here.

  • Asian transient? Whaaaat? I don’t believe this story for a second.

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