LA Metro pursues AI video, weapon scanning, after the fatal stabbing of a mom (2024)

In response to the unprovoked fatal stabbing of a female passenger, the LA Metro board voted on Thursday, April 25 to pursue facial recognition and weapons detection systems at train and bus stations similar to those used at airports, casinos and concert venues.

The board unanimously supported a lengthy motion that asks CEO Stephanie Wiggins to report back in two months on the possibility of adding these devices to the LA Metro system of trains and buses, as well as other anti-crime hardening measures.

“It was a shot across the bow,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor and board member Kathryn Barger, referring to the fatal stabbing of 66-year-old Mirna Soza Arauz at around 5 a.m. Monday on the B Line train at the Universal City Station in Studio City.

Soza Arauz was heading home after boarding the train in North Hollywood on April 22 when she was stabbed to death in an unprovoked attack. She managed to get off the train at the Universal City Station on the 3900 block of Lankershim Boulevard where she was found mortally wounded on the platform.

A suspect was arrested about a half-hour later and identified as Elliott Tramel Nowden, 45. Nowden was charged with murder by District Attorney George Gascón, who said the murder charge includes a special circ*mstance allegation of murder during a robbery.

LA Metro pursues AI video, weapon scanning, after the fatal stabbing of a mom (1)

Soza Araus worked as a night security guard at a Tommy’s hamburger restaurant in North Hills. She was a mother of three and a grandmother of four.

According to Los Angeles Superior Court records, Nowden pleaded no contest in June 2019 to battering a passenger on a Metro train. Los Angeles City Council President and Metro board member Paul Krekorian said that after the 2019 attack, Nowden was barred from boarding or riding any Metro trains.

However Metro staff said there was no way that the Metro security officers, or the various law enforcement agencies who are contracted to patrol Metro’s system, could have been aware of the ban on Nowden.

“On that early morning, she was assaulted by somebody who has a long history of violent crime and was previously convicted of brutal, violent attacks,” Krekorian said at the meeting. “That this man was released early and still present to murder this woman is an absolute travesty we cannot tolerate.”

Wiggins said Metro began enhancing law enforcement presence with its partners, Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Long Beach Police Department. “Clearly there are some gaps that need to be addressed,” Wiggins said.

As part of the motion, Krekorian asked that Metro be made aware of stay-away notices by coordinating with the district attorney, the county Probation Department and the courts.

Barger, the originator of the motion, asked that Wiggins report back on locking the fare gates so those who don’t pay cannot enter a train; collect data on violent crime on the system within the past 12 months; determine if there is a correlation between those who skip paying the fares — including homeless riders — and violent crime.

In addition, Inglewood Mayor James Butts, a Metro board member, added to the motion that Metro look into placing video cameras with AI technology on train platforms.

The motion also included pursuing facial recognition technology that scans people on a train platform or bus depot before they board. “When it sees something in the shape of a knife or firearm, the video takes a picture and sends that feed to the command center with a location, so we can deploy police resources to the location,” Butts explained.

Butts said the technology is used in many European cities.

Janice Hahn, Los Angeles County supervisor and Metro board member, moved that the transit agency also look into ways to scan for weapons before anyone can bring them onto a train or bus. Many directors said this may not be practical, since there are many entrances to train stations and bus depots.

Holly Mitchell, Los Angeles County supervisor and Metro board member, said any new law enforcement policies or procedures should abide by the agency’s anti-bias doctrine. “To make sure whatever policing practice we engage in doesn’t continue to disproportionately impact black and brown people,” she said.

The attack was the latest act of violence to plague the Metro transit system, even though overall crime has dropped and ridership continues to increase.

Metro is the lead transportation planning and funding agency for L.A. County and carries more than 900,000 boardings daily on six electric rail lines and 117 bus routes utilizing more than 2,200 buses.

City News Service contributed to this article.

LA Metro pursues AI video, weapon scanning, after the fatal stabbing of a mom (2024)
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