With the pandemic easing and lockdowns lifted, a return to normalcy has come with benefits: increased economic activity, more people going back to work and school and holiday gatherings and social interactions.
But on the Los Angeles public transit system — where ridership has rebounded to about 843,000 weekday daily riders from a pandemic low of about 363,800— normal has also brought with it a rise in crime.
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In 2021, through September, reports of violent crimes were up 25% from the same time last year and 9% from 2019, according to L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority data. Some crimes, such as aggravated assaults, are exceeding pre-pandemic levels even though bus and rail ridership hasn’t fully recovered.
Although still rare, homicides jumped from one in 2019, to three in 2020, the first full year of the pandemic. So far in 2021, five people have been killed in stations or on public transport, including a 28-year-old womanfatally shot on the train while on her way to work.
While most people ride public transit without incident, the issue of crime recently sparked a clash between L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and Metro board members over the future of law enforcement on the system.
At a news conference to argue for the extension of his department’s contract with Metro, the sheriff rattled off a list of eight violent crimes, dating back to 2019, including shootings, stabbings and sexual assaults. He referred to the incidents as “the level of carnage” happening on trains.
Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts, who sits on the Metro board of directors, said that he saw Villanueva’s compilation of violent crimes, “as a public acknowledgement that he failed to prevent these crimes.”
Butts, a former Santa Monica police chief, added that given the enormous scale of the public transit system, there was no reason to try to frighten people with crime numbers.
“The press conference was a political exercise that gave statistics without perspective,” Butts said during a Metro committee meeting. “Given the millions of riders that Metro serves every year, the crime statistics compared per capita to cities are de minimis.”
Citizen journalist @Gutterpeeps shared on his Twitter account a recent incident showing a disoriented flame-wielding man attacking riders on the LA metro blue line. “This is normal on the Metro trains. I know at least 3 people have been shot and killed on the Metro platforms recently,” tweeted @Gutterpeeps.
This year, through September, there were 470 violent crimes systemwide. In 2020, over the same time period, there were 375. In 2019, before the pandemic began, there were 432.
Robberies have dropped from the last two years, to 165, but reports of homicides, rapes, aggravated assaults and aggravated assaults on operators were higher this year during the same time in 2019 and 2020.