Statistics show there has been a significant spike in crime this year on MTA buses and trains. An increased law enforcement presence on public transportation hopes to flatten the assault rate. Patrick Healy reports from Downtown LA for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Nov. 14, 2012.
Serious crimes on trains and buses operated by the Metro system in Los Angeles County have spiked dramatically over the first ten months of this year, according to data obtained exclusively by NBC4.
Assaults in the system are up 13.5 percent over the first ten months of last year, and robberies have increased by 42 percent, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) said Wednesday.
Just last week, an 18-year-old woman with cognitive disabilities was allegedly raped on a bus, and on Saturday, an 89-year-old man died of injuries that may have been sustained during an assault on a bus last month.
For the most part, officials at the transportation agency have downplayed the increase in crime.
Spokesman Marc Littman said the spike was “infinitesimal” when compared with the total number of passengers that the massive system handles in a year.
But advocates for the elderly and people with disabilities worry that region’s poorest and most vulnerable residents have no alternative but to use a system that is increasingly dangerous.
“It just feels like everyone is looking for somebody else to step in and take care of things,” said Paula Perlman, who heads the Disability Rights Legal Center at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “But maybe they need a different safety system.”
County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who chairs the transportation agency’s board of directors, said he would demand a full accounting of crime on buses and trains.
"This is totally inexcusable," Antonovich said. "It's unacceptable."
MTA board members were not informed about last week's rape when it occurred, nor about an incident at the Hollywood and Highland station of the Red Line in which an elderly woman fell to her death from an escalator, Antonovich said.
In the sexual assault case, a 20-year-old South Los Angeles man was charged Wednesday with rape. Kerry Trotter was expected to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon.
"I was born and raised in Los Angeles," Antonovich said. "My mother didn't drive and we rode public transportation. We had safe public transportation."
By the end of October, there had been 1114 serious crimes on MTA buses and trains, the agency said, up from 963 during the same period in 2011. There were 291 robberies, up from 205 last year, and 185 assaults, the highest in at least five years and 22 more than during the same period in 2011.
There were at least three rapes during the period, including one at Union Station. Those numbers do not include a woman who was assaulted at a bus stop earlier this year, because the agency only counts crimes that happen on board a transit vehicle or at one of its stations.
“We’ve had 185 assaults so far this year and that’s 185 too many,” said Paul Taylor, the agency’s deputy chief executive. “We want there to be none.”
To combat crime, Metro has added cameras to its buses and trains. It employs 450 sheriff’s deputies and other sworn officers to patrol its trains, buses and stations.
After a driver was shot to death earlier this year, the agency added a nine-person patrol team that goes out regularly to high-crime areas, Taylor said.
Those include the Wilshire Corridor, the area around the North Hollywood light rail station and bus lines in the Crenshaw District.
“But we can’t be on every bus and every train,” he said.
Metro’s top law enforcement officer, transit security chief Patrick Jordan, blames most of the increase in crime on a rise in cell-phone theft.
As big city transit systems go, he said, L.A. has more crime than Boston, but considerably less than Washington, D.C.
He urged riders to report any crimes against fellow passengers to the sheriff’s department hotline at 323-563-5000, and to be sure to include the number of the bus or train in which they were riding.
“The biggest thing we need to do is engage the public and get them to help us,” Jordan said. “A lot of stuff goes unreported.”