Ex-Metro security chief says police didn’t notice dead man at train station

In February, a dead man lay slumped on a bench at the San Pedro Street subway station. No one had checked for almost six hours. his condition, including five Los Angeles Police Department officers who had been patrolling the platform. It was only a transit ambassador who asked about the man’s well-being who realized he had died, said former Metro security chief Gina Osborn.

“They weren’t even paying attention,” she said. “They weren’t engaged enough to realize there was a hunched human being there.”

Osborn, a former FBI agent, knows this because she and her colleagues installed surveillance cameras around the system and used them more and more to monitor police patrols during her two years with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Her conclusion: They’re not doing enough.

Security problems around Metro have only increased in the last month after a series of knife attacks and two murders on the system. Metro is expected to spend $195 million on law enforcement next fiscal year, a figure that continues to rise as the agency explores creating its own police department.

Two men in police uniforms walk onto a subway platform.

On May 15, 2024, police officers patrol the Metro Red Line in Los Angeles.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass announced an increase in police operations last week after a series of violent crimes. And Metro is investing in a range of measures to improve the system ahead of the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. This includes additional security officers, continued deployment of transit ambassadors to assist riders, and additional cleaning efforts at several stations.

The crime wave comes at a critical time for Metro as the company continues to add new lines and expansions to its rail network, including the LAX/Metro Transit Center Station, scheduled to open this year.

The agencies that oversee the system – the LAPD, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Long Beach Police Department – said they were doing their jobs and working with Metro to protect passengers, drivers and operators on thousands of buses and trains over 100 miles of track.

“There is always room for improvement,” said Donald Graham, deputy chief of the LAPD’s Transit Services Bureau. “We will continue to review what we are doing and ask ourselves whether what we are doing is the best course of action.”

He said an internal investigation into the incident at the San Pedro train station found that officers were doing their jobs that day. They were there to check whether the train drivers had their tap cards to pay for the tickets.

In the last year, under Bass’s leadership, there has been an increase in arrests as police crack down on drug abuse, trespassing and other crimes. Response times are below the city average, he said, and their mission has become clearer: engagement, interdiction to prevent situations from getting worse or escalating, and a more visible presence.

A woman with her head bowed in a room full of seated people and television cameras in the background.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass arrives at a news conference with Metro leadership on May 16, 2024, to introduce a proposal to make the system safer for riders and operators.

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Osborn was fired in March, shortly after she reported to the agency’s inspector general the alleged failure of sheriff’s deputies to patrol the Downtown Santa Monica station on the E Line on March 15, she said. Her attorney, Marc Greenberg, says she had a “shining” personnel record during her two-year tenure as chief safety officer and was fired because of her whistleblower behavior.

Metro spokesman Patrick Chandler said the agency does not comment on personnel matters or pending litigation.

When she was fired, Osborn was convinced that the LAPD, sheriff and Long Beach police were failing in their jobs and were not proactive enough to keep the buses and trains safe. And when Osborn pushed for the creation of an internal police department, she felt obstructed by Metro chief Stephanie Wiggins.

She discovered the error from March as part of so-called random checks by the law enforcement authorities.

At 1:37 p.m. that day, she texted Sheriff’s Captain Shawn R. Kehoe to tell him no one had been at the station since 10 a.m. Eight days later, he responded in an email, she said. His two deputies were interviewing for internal positions, he said. But she suspected the officers were participating in a charity golf tournament at the Pico Rivera Golf Club for the department’s “Baker to Vegas” running team. The Baker Run is an annual relay race held in the desert between law enforcement agencies.

“I don’t think taxpayers are getting their money’s worth,” she said.

Kehoe told the Times that the agency investigated the allegations and determined that the officers were at their posts. “This was confirmed by the tracking technology used by the authority.”

“We are committed to working with our law enforcement and Metro partners to ensure the safety of our transit community and transit workers,” he said.

A 2022 audit by Metro’s Office of Inspector General found that police departments had inadequate oversight of the system and insufficient resources to monitor officer deployment. They also lacked transparency in handling citizen complaints. Osborn attempted to remedy this by installing cameras and negotiating with law enforcement about their use.

Although there have been improvements, she said she has often encountered resistance. Long Beach officials had agreed to take passengers out at the end of the A Line in downtown Long Beach, but later refused to do so.

“We adhere to our contractual obligations and focus on enforcing criminal code violations to ensure a safe environment on Metro,” Long Beach police spokesman Richard Mejia said in an emailed statement. “We value our ongoing partnership with Metro, which is critical to ensuring the safety of both riders and our community.”

When she turned to Wiggins for help, she found little support there, Osborn says.

One problem that emerged early on was the unsafe conditions for cleaning crews working in the miles of underground tunnels and rooms that house the equipment that powers the system. These so-called secondary areas provide a safe haven for travelers, and some intruders would store contraband or use drugs in the secluded areas. The hidden passageways and work spaces were often filthy with human waste, drug paraphernalia and other waste. Many workers feared attack and wanted escorts.

After receiving complaints from superiors, Osborn asked Wiggins to increase the number of private security guards from 261 to 500 armed guards to support the sites. Wiggins rejected the proposal, saying it was too expensive.

Osborn proposed a lower number, 419, which was rejected because Wiggins said it was “fiscally irresponsible,” according to Osborn. She then proposed 372, a quarter of which would be unarmed. She offered detailed operational plans. Wiggins ultimately approved the 372, she said. Only half of them were armed.

Men in uniform in front of an entrance that leads underground.

LAPD officers (right) and Metro contract security officers (left) patrol the Hollywood/Highland Station on June 25, 2020.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

At the time, many agencies had moved away from deploying more armed officers as pressure from the Black Lives Matter movement forced them to examine disparities in enforcement and police brutality. Metro’s board was particularly reluctant to put more resources into armed law enforcement, which critics said made some riders uncomfortable and too often targeted black riders. The agency had poured money into social services such as homeless services.

Then last May, Metro’s executive vice president, William Peterson, became ill while working in one of the auxiliary areas, Osborn said. He told Osborn that other workers were also getting sick. She emailed the deputy director of risk, safety and facilities management to find out if it was safe to work in those locations. The areas were determined to be dangerous due to fentanyl, methamphetamine and bacteria. Personal protective equipment should be used, a review said.

The danger in these areas was reported to now-retired CBS reporter David Goldstein. When Wiggins learned of it, she blamed Osborn and demanded daily reports on the situation, according to Osborn. Osborn said she made it clear to Wiggins and operations manager Conan Cheung that it was impossible to secure the areas without guards there 24 hours a day. Intruders kept breaking in, often opening emergency doors when the guard shift was over.

Wiggins wanted Osborn to move the private security guards from Metro’s bus and train departments to the underground areas. Osborn refused, saying it would put those areas at risk, and Wiggins sent a heated email, according to Osborn.

“Ms. Osborn’s allegations are categorically false,” Metro spokesman Chandler said when asked about Osborn’s allegations that Wiggins dismissed her concerns about the sidelines until the information was leaked to the media and declined her requests.

“Ensuring the safety of all our customers and employees is the most important thing that Metro’s CEO, executive team and union leadership are working on,” he said. “Metro is now looking for a new, experienced system safety director who understands the full scope of the job and will be proactive, resourceful and collaborative in achieving it.”

“Leading system safety at Metro requires taking responsibility for all aspects of Metro’s safety – ensuring the safety of our customers and employees on trains and buses and at our stations, as well as securing the many facilities where our essential employees come to work.”

Osborn eventually received 87 more guards, but said Wiggins told her the extra security measures would end in June.

Even though Osborn is no longer there, the fiscal year 2025 budget proposal includes funding for 53 new transit security guards. There are no significant increases for more private security guards. “That’s a drop in the bucket,” she said.

At the same time, the costs of law enforcement are rising, she said. Last year, Metro paid the LAPD, Sheriff’s Department and Long Beach Police Department more than $200 million despite budgeting $176 million, she said. And it’s unlikely they’ll stay within budget this year. “Wiggins understands that the LAPD has received a significant increase and that they will pass those costs on to Metro,” Osborn said.