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Plan may give a lift to police, MTA

(The following article by Jean Guccione was posted on the Los Angeles Times website on August 18.)

LOS ANGELES -- A Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority committee recommended Thursday that uniformed police officers be allowed to ride its buses and trains for free.

"The more they ride, the more security we have," said John Catoe, the MTA's deputy chief executive.

The presence of law enforcement officers "helps to increase vigilance, minimize criminal activity, and ensure the safety and security of transit patrons and employees," according to a Metro staff report.

Besides, the benefits far outweigh any potential costs "by providing a heightened sense of security" and potentially speeding police response times in emergencies, the report found.

"We're just trying to encourage law enforcement officers to use transit," Catoe said.

The LAPD does not keep track of how officers get to work, and Catoe said he didn't expect thousands of uniformed officers to get out of their cars and onto buses each day. Under the proposed policy, if they want a free ride, officers must wear their full uniform with a gun at their waist.

LAPD Deputy Chief Sharon Papa said most officers travel to and from work in more comfortable civilian clothes, changing into their uniforms at the start of each shift. Uniformed officers cannot take patrol cars home with them, she said.

The proposal also would require officers to carry valid identification and be willing to stand if the bus is crowded or if asked to do so by transit staff.

Papa, who was the top transit cop in Los Angeles County for nearly two decades, said off-duty officers traveling on buses and trains mostly break up minor disputes among passengers.

Their presence also "keeps people honest," discouraging fare evasion, she said.

Officers are expected to stay alert and be prepared to intervene, transit officials said.

"Let's face it, you are not going to be able to snooze" or read a book on the commute, Papa said. "It's not a free ride."

The Metrolink commuter rail service and Foothill Transit already offer free service to police.

The MTA's full board of directors is set to consider the proposal next week.

Friday, August 18, 2006

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