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Homelessness a ‘significant challenge’ for LAPD officers patrolling Metro buses and trains

Ten weeks into patrolling Metro’s public transit system, a top Los Angeles Police Department official told the Police Commission Tuesday that calls related to homelessness and mental illness pose a “significant” challenge for law enforcement, so efforts are underway to increase staffing to address such incidences.

Many individuals who are homeless use Metro’s buses and train cars as “shelter, which puts our officers in a really difficult position,” said Deputy Chief Robert Green, who heads up the Transit Services Bureau, the department that is carrying out LAPD’s service contract with the Metro public transit agency.

Green said his officers are often called out to a scene when “folks are acting out on the system.”

And because “people on that car clearly expect them to take action,” officers are put into the “position of removing folks, so that’s a continuous struggle to get those numbers down,” he said, referring to the number of heated incidences that officers are forced to respond to.

While there has been “tremendous progress” in dealing with the issue, the “homelessness piece is still probably the most significant challenge we’ll have on that system — not only homelessness, but the level of folks that are mentally ill on the system,” he told the Commission.

Green said the bureau is trying to take a pro-active approach. LAPD officers are working with Metro security staff on morning “sweeps” at Union Station and aboard buses and train cars “to keep folks off the system who” do not have the fares needed to ride.

“My long-term concern is if we get into a use of force on the train and it escalates and somebody gets hurt,” he said in an interview after his presentation.

“It’s much more difficult once someone’s in crisis to deal with them,” he said. “They’re not thinking rationally.”

The LAPD has the largest law enforcement presence in L.A. Metro's system— the third-largest in the country — for the first time since 2003.

Green said that “multiple times a day” his officers are responding to people experiencing mental illness or who are acting out, although not all of them are necessarily homeless.

De-escalation techniques that have been heavily emphasized in the department late appear to be working in resolving “99 percent” of the incidences, he said. Those techniques use “verbal” approaches to avoid needing to “put hands on folks.”

“De-escalation is a respect for human life,” he said. “We’re seeing the fruits of that on a very crowded transit system where people are in close proximity.”

Green said the Transit Services Bureau is paying for a plainclothes officer from the LAPD’s Mental Evaluation Unit who is trained to deal with people with mental illness to come in each day to assist with incidences.

The bureau is also taking advantage of the city program known as Homeless Outreach and Proactive Engagement, or HOPE, in which a team of officers work to bring in non-law enforcement resources when interacting with people who are homeless. The teams are typically made up of 10 LAPD officers and a sergeant who are trained in referring homeless individuals to services, and who work on a regular basis with outreach and sanitation workers to deal with encampments and trespassing issues.

Green said that they now have four HOPE team officers, one for each of geographic region being patrolled.

But there is now a strong chance that Metro will provide funding for a full, 10-officer HOPE team dedicated to the Metro patrol, Green said.

A major emphasis of the HOPE program is to allow “other folks in city and county government to step in and fill this void,” Green said.

“This cannot be done through law enforcement,” he said. “What we’re hoping now with Proposition H and Measure HHH money available now, they come up with housing, more support of mental illness … so that this will be a collaborative effort to get people the resources they need to get off the street.”

Metro spokesman Dave Sotero said Tuesday that there is ongoing discussion to bring in additional HOPE team resources “to assist us in addressing homelessness.”

“We will accomplish this by shifting existing staff resources and working within our existing budget authority,” he said.

Alex Wiggins, Metro’s top security and law enforcement officer, said that their goal is to “to deliver a pleasant, safe trip for every customer,” as well as “approach homelessness in a sensitive, holistic manner.”

“Many of the people who resort to taking shelter on our trains, buses and stations are simply looking for a safe space to sleep,” Wiggins said.

source: daily news

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