How safe is LA Metro, really? A look at latest crime data

A traveler walks past a passenger onboard a Los Angeles Metro Rail subway car at Union Station in Los Angeles. Photo credit: Bing Guan

New data shows that violent crimes on LA Metro continue to increase. Between March and April 2024, violent crime — which the agency categorizes as “Crimes Against Persons” and includes aggravated assault, battery, and homicide — has risen by 15.6%. “Crimes Against Property,” which includes bike theft and vandalism, have gone down by 3.9% in the same time period. Meanwhile, other crimes — known as “Crimes Against Society,” such as trespassing and narcotics — dropped by 33.7%. In 2023, total crime on the system dropped by 44% per 1 million riders in the same time period. That’s all according to the latest monthly crime report shared at LA Metro’s Operations, Safety, and Customer Experience Committee meeting on June 20. 

This spring, crime and safety on LA Metro’s buses and trains made headlines, particularly after a spike of high-profile incidents on the system in May. That includes a passenger who was fatally shot on a bus in Commerce, a wrench attack in Encino, and an altercation that started on a bus in Glendale and ended with a stabbing after the passengers got off the vehicle. In April, 67-year-old Mirna Arauz was stabbed in the throat at the North Hollywood/Studio City B Line station. 

In response to the string of incidents, LA mayor Karen Bass ordered a 20% “immediate surge” in law enforcement on the system on May 16, calling the spike in crime as “absolutely unacceptable.”  

More law enforcement on the lines, however, could increase the number of crimes reported on the lines, as LA City Council President and Metro Board Member Paul Krekorian pointed out in the June 20 meeting.

“Every time we increase enforcement, the crime numbers go up, understandably, because we are making more arrests,” Krekorian says. “That data can be misconstrued by the public to suggest that, ‘Oh, there's more crime. The system is more dangerous,’ when in fact, what it means is we are doing a more effective job of enforcement.” 

Read more: More high-profile crimes on LA Metro: What will city leaders do?

Meanwhile, LA Metro has rolled out new initiatives to address safety on the system. The agency has unveiled an “Elevator Open Door” pilot program at three Downtown LA stations where doors are kept open when they are not in use. It says those spaces have become a “target for illegal activity” such as vandalism, smoking, urination, and drug use. In late May, it launched a separate pilot program that requires riders at the North Hollywood B Line station to tap out when exiting the facility. 

Nearly 1 million people ride the LA Metro system daily, which includes 120 bus routes and 6 rail lines. Last year, the agency had the second-highest ridership behind New York’s MTA, according to the American Public Transportation Association. It beat out other major systems, including the Chicago Transit Authority, WMATA in the Washington D.C. area, and the MBTA in Boston. In total, LA Metro tallied more than 280 million boardings across its 1,447 square mile system. 

Ridership on the LA Metro system has largely bounced back to its pre-pandemic levels. In May, the system tallied more than 27 million boardings on its buses and trains — bringing weekday ridership to more than 80% of May 2019 levels. 

So how does LA Metro move forward from here? UCLA’s Madeline Brozen says it's now critical for the agency to talk to the Angelenos who use the transit system daily, particularly those who rely on the infrastructure and might not have any other transportation options. 

Meanwhile, she says it’s important for the media and others to provide context around the crime and safety data they amplify. “I fear that having a lot of high-profile stories that don't have that context make the system actually feel much less safe than it actually is.”

Brozen says that sharing data out of context could disproportionately impact the very communities the agency provides service for. “There's a history of transit being portrayed as a really scary place. And I fear that part of that is demonizing or characterizing the people that ride transit, which are by and large, low-income, people of color. It just feeds into a very poor perception of the service that it really provides in people's lives.”

*Correction 6/26/24: A previous version of this story understated the drop in total crime on Metro since last year.