New measures announced to increase safety on Metro Transit lines

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The Metropolitan Council announced new measures on Wednesday to increase safety on Metro Transit buses and trains.

The council on Wednesday authorized $1.8 million for up to 20,000 hours of additional overtime for Transit Police.  

"We've heard the concerns and we don't have all the answers, this is our start," said Charlie Zelle, Metropolitan Council Chairman.

There are 140 full-time officers on the force, and 50 part-timers that would be eligible to work more hours. Met Transit will also seek additional resources through personnel loans from other regional police forces to help address safety on transit.

LRT rider, Junette Broadnax, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS she rides the train every day and depends on it to get her to her job. She said she's "very happy" to hear more security is on the way.

"I am all smiles when I see Metro Transit Police who I didn't see very often," said Broadnax. "But, I have noticed recently that I am seeing officers more often and it is definitely needed and a good thing."

Carol Lewis told KSTP she is a frequent LRT rider and said she has noticed, over the past few years, things have become more chaotic on her Green Line route.

"There is definitely more fights and more craziness going on and it is frightening at times," said Lewis. "I am a woman of faith and I pray a lot and I can tell you more security and more police is a welcome thing on these trains.

"There have been tragic instances on buses and trains, but there's been daily behavior and atmosphere of danger," Zelle said. "At Met Transit we need to up and will be upping our game to have safety be the highest priority for our agency."

The additional overtime hours Transit Police Chief Eddie Frizell said will allow officers to work on trains, buses, and platforms. Plainclothes officers will also be on transit, according to the department.

"To deploy my forces, where we need them to have the most positive impact on all our rail system," Frizell said. "We still have a long way to go."

The announcement comes less than a week after a gunman boarded a Metro Transit bus near Target Center and shot two passengers, killing one and seriously wounding the other.

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Zelle said the new plans are meant to address growing concerns over criminal activity and nuisance behavior, such as smoking, on trains and buses.

“Transit is a place where people gather, where communities come together,” Zelle said. “What’s happening on transit reflects what’s happening in our neighborhoods and cities. Inappropriate and criminal behavior on the streets translates into bad behavior on our transit system. The issues are bigger than transit, and they deserve the attention of us all.”

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The Met Council chairman is set to testify Thursday before the Minnesota House Transportation Finance Committee "to begin a legislative dialogue on the importance and need for increased transit safety," the release stated. The proposed transit ambassador system is likely to be the focus of the discussion.

Earlier this month, state lawmakers filed a bill that would enlist uniformed ambassadors to be the "eyes and ears" aboard transit vehicles and change how fare evasion is penalized. Right now, riders receive a warning, followed by a misdemeanor charge and a $180 fine. The new proposal would replace that with a $35 citation.

Metro Transit had already taken some steps to address safety before Wednesday's announcement, including purchasing new and improved surveillance cameras for all light-rail train cars, doubling staff for the "text for safety" program, authorizing more plainclothes Metro Transit Police officers and requiring Metro Transit officers to work extra hours each week.

The new surveillance cameras will feature real-time, high-resolution monitoring of all 91 train cars, which Metro Transit hopes will aid in identifying suspects and quickening response times.

Rep. Jon Koznick, R-Lakeville, an assistant minority leader and member of the Legislative Commission on Metropolitan Government, issued the following statement Wednesday:

"It is encouraging to see the Met Council acknowledge the seriousness of this problem and the need to keep riders safe and restore public trust in our transit system. The proposed changes are an important first step in what needs to be a deeper conversation about improving security on light-rail trains and buses.

"This issue has been neglected for too long and has resulted in Metro Transit becoming one of the least safe transit systems in the country, with the highest number of security events, according to National Transit Data from the Federal Transit Administration.

"In the coming weeks, House Republicans will announce new initiatives aimed at making our communities and our public transit system safer for all Minnesotans. No one should hesitate to use public transit because of the fear of becoming a victim. We look forward to continuing this important discussion in the days and weeks to come."