Metropolitan Transit System Police Chief Manny Guaderrama
Metropolitan Transit System Police Chief Manny Guaderrama / Photo Courtesy of MTS

The architect of the Metropolitan Transit System’s bolstered enforcement will be retiring at the end of next month.

MTS announced Monday Police Chief Manny Guaderrama, who ran the agency’s security and enforcement efforts for five years after spending three decades at the San Diego Police Department, will retire on Aug. 28.

News of his retirement comes amid a significant change in direction at an agency that on Guaderrama’s watch dramatically cracked down on quality of life crimes including fare evasion.

New board leaders including Chairman Nathan Fletcher and City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery, who chairs the agency’s public security committee, have called for the agency to consider a less punitive approach. MTS is also pursuing an outside, third-party review of the agency’s policies and practices that could reshape its enforcement posture.

Now Fletcher and Montgomery are set to lead a national search for Guaderrama’s replacement.

“I’d like to personally thank Manny for his nearly four decades of dedicated public service,” Fletcher wrote in a statement. “I am also excited about what the future holds for MTS. We’ve made recent progress to begin redefining our approach to security, but we are only at the beginning. This change is an opportunity to embrace a fresh approach with new leadership.”

A year and a half after Guaderrama took the helm as director of MTS transit enforcement, he asked the MTS board to double the number of code compliance officers directly employed by the agency and to trim the number of security guards employed by private firm Allied Universal by 50 in a bid to boost efficiency and allow for more enforcement of MTS violations on a beat system more typical of police agencies.

The February 2017 vote led to a dramatic increase in MTS ticketing, particularly of riders who fail to pay a $2.50 fare.

In 2016, MTS officers wrote 25,452 fare evasion citations. Last year, officers handed out 66,155 fare evasion tickets – a figure that eclipses numbers reported by even larger transit agencies. The increased enforcement didn’t lead to a dramatic reduction in the agency’s already low fare evasion rate, which has long hovered around 3 percent.

Advocates have for years raised concerns about how that enforcement has affected low-income riders, particularly those of color, who disproportionately rely on the transit system. Earlier this year, a Voice of San Diego investigation revealed how fare evasion tickets can terrorize those who receive them – and how most of the roughly 1,470 fare evasion tickets the agency wrote in a single week went unpaid a year later.

Since last year, new MTS board members have also urged a re-evaluation of MTS’s enforcement posture and the impacts of its tickets. Those calls continued following the sudden May passing of MTS CEO Paul Jablonski, who had led the agency for 16 years.  The MTS board appointed longtime MTS official Sharon Cooney as the agency’s new CEO following Jablonski’s death.

The MTS board in June unanimously approved a pilot fare evasion diversion program set to roll out in September that will give accused fare evaders an option to pay a lesser fine or do community service rather than send those citations to court, an outcome that can lead to significant fines and referrals to collections.

The agency also recently adopted a new use-of-force policy that mandates officers to intervene when others use excessive force, calls for de-escalation tactics whenever possible and bans carotid and neck restraints.

More change is expected.

The expected outside review and the expiration of MTS’s existing agreement with longtime security contractor Allied Universal next year could pave the way for a restructuring of MTS’s enforcement structure.

For now, MTS employs 64 code compliance inspectors and 144 security guards employed by Allied Universal. The inspectors write citations while the guards do not. Neither are state-certified police officers, a designation that would require more substantial training.

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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