A video showing a Los Angeles Police Department officer arresting and forcibly removing a woman from a Metro Red Line train Monday after she refused to move her feet off a seat has stirred controversy over policing on public transit.
The young woman, who says on the video that she is just 18, is seen dragged from her seat and onto the train platform at the Westlake/MacArthur Park station, while she protests. Other members of the public gathered, at least one questioning the officer's actions. Another woman who hotly protested the arrest was herself taken into custody.
The rider did violate the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's code of customer conduct, which forbids everything from feet on seats to eating or making loud noises on buses and trains. Violators can be fined or removed from their transit ride.
Metro spokeswoman Pauletta Tonilas said a verbal warning is usually as far as it goes. But she said Metro stepped up enforcement of the violations based on comments in surveys of former Metro riders.
"A third of them said they stopped riding Metro because of the behavior of other people on the system or feeling threatened," she said.
Metro has aimed to improve perceptions of safety on transit as it struggles with falling ridership over the last several years, despite billions of dollars invested in transit projects.
Last year, Metro adopted a new multi-agency police contract for safety enforcement. Instead of employing only the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department as it had for decades, Metro contracted with LAPD and the Long Beach Police Department to police transit in their jurisdictions, with the Sheriff's Department filling in the gaps.
The arrangement was made to provide faster response times and increase police visibility on transit.
But increasing presence of law enforcement on transit can have consequences.
Eric Miller, a Loyola Law School professor and expert on policing, said ramping up enforcement of non-criminal behaviors like code of conduct violations, can have negative effects.
"It increases tensions with the community because it requires the police to interfere for things that they consider completely minor," Miller said. "It can be alienating. You feel picked upon. It's prone to becoming adversarial quickly."
He said there is a way to achieve order on the Metro without escalating conflicts: "Don’t use the cops."
Metro could leave the code of conduct to other employees and only criminal matters to police, Miller said.
Metro has already done this with fare enforcement. It decriminalized fare evasion and last year shifted fare checks and ticketing to civilian security instead of police officers.
An audit completed by Metro's Office of the Inspector General in 2015 recommended that Metro could achieve code of conduct enforcement and fare evasion using civilian personnel rather than police officers.
Metro CEO Phillip Washington issued a statement posted on the agency's website in response to the Red Line incident:
As Metro continues to work with our partners at the Los Angeles Police Department on the investigation of a young woman being forcibly removed from a Metro subway train yesterday, I want to be clear about my position: We want our Customer Code of Conduct rules enforced, but I’m disappointed at the way the situation escalated.
Washington also said until the investigation is completed, "we must not rush to judgment. "