Minnesota legislators concerned about safety on Metro Transit, authorities respond

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The safety of riders on Metro Transit is being called into question by some Minnesota legislators.

The House Transportation Committee Finance Chairman, Representative Paul Torkelson, filed a data request for crime and safety numbers. The results came in Tuesday. 

Light rail commuters and bus riders expect a safe ride, but some legislators say what they’re hearing from constituents is just the opposite.

“The biggest complaint I’ve heard from users of your systems is they don’t feel safe when riding a train or riding a bus, and I believe people deserve to feel safe,” Rep. Torkelson said to Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington. 

Rep. Torkelson requested crime and safety data as it relates to light rail and buses. So, Chief Harrington rolled out the numbers.

“I want to put this into context that transit is one of the safest places in the Twin Cities area that you can possibly be at any given time,” Chief Harrington said. 

For Metro Transit, Part One crimes (more serious crimes) amounted to 160 from January 2015 through July 2018. Harrington said when the numbers jumped, his officers focused on two robbery crews and arrested all of them.

In 2017 we saw a spike, as I mentioned, which is why we increased our directed patrol efforts, and we saw a spike especially in November of 2017. In that month we had a 101 Part One offenses committed,” he said.

But the chief said the biggest concern, or problem area, really isn’t the violent crimes.  

“One of the more notable pieces here is if you look at all the Part One crimes, 65 percent are property crimes, and the most frequent serious crime we deal with is felony theft, which is in fact theft from person.”

Harrington is primarily talking about phone thefts. One remedy for that has been to simply advise riders to put their phones away, and he said it’s worked. Harrington said his department is focused now on evidence-based predictive police - knowing where the potential for crime is the highest. But, there is also a focus on engagement, education and enforcement. 

Rep. Torkelson still expressed some big concerns.

“I appreciate the work you’re doing and the progress you’re making, but frankly the numbers as I look at them [...] they look like they’re pretty flat,” he said.

Chief Harrington said that in the three years, about 300 million rides were given and there were 
2,500 Part One crimes and about 23,000 Part Two crimes (crimes that affect quality of life).