Sept.Report, Part 1: Transit Safety, presented by Lt. Jason Lindner, MTPD (with Youtube link)

The meeting was called to order on Zoom at 6:30 with 18 attenders.  

Our speaker this month was Lt. Jason Lindner of the Metro Transit Police Dept. He has been in law enforcement for almost 24 years, 18 years with Metro Transit. 

The Metro Transit Police Dept. is responsible for a huge jurisdiction; it covers  8 counties and 90 cities.  If any place in those 8 counties has a bus route or trainline, MTPD is responsible for civilian safety.   That is not only a lot of territory, it’s home to a widely diverse population. 

Like other law enforcement agencies, the MTPD has been impacted by social issues, by health and safety issues, and by staffing issues.  The officers of the MTPD were here before all this happened.  They’ve worked through the pandemic and all the other issues, and they’re still here, working with their communities.   They intend to continue to build partnerships with all the communities they serve.

Crimes, misdemeanor and felony. 

As we went into the pandemic shutdown, ridership was way down and the trains were calm.   Now ridership is coming back up. Crime at all levels is increasing again.  During the shut down, Courts were requested to not jail people who were considered less of a threat to society.   Close quarters, as found in jails, promote the spread of Covid.  Prisoners could contact the virus in jail and then take it with them on release.  It also worked the other way: someone who was infected (but hadn’t developed symptoms) and jailed could bring Covid into the jail endangering other prisoners and staff.  Health authorities requested that people who were not considered dangerous be released to home monitoring and other strategies.  

A downside is that Courts learned that early release to home monitoring and other strategies made hearings difficult to arrange.  In consequence, the Courts’ caseloads got backed up, and they’re still digging out.   More people were on the streets and trains, a shift in ridership which impacted the Transit Police.

During the shut down, Courts were requested to not jail people who were considered less of a threat to society.   Close quarters, as found in jails, promote the spread of Covid.  Prisoners could contact the virus in jail and then take it with them on release.   Courts learned that early release to home monitoring and other strategies made hearings difficult to arrange.  In consequence, the Courts’ caseloads got backed up, and they’re still digging out.   More people were on the streets and trains, a shift in ridership which impacted the Transit Police

However, although the transit system does deal with some felony level crime, most of the crime the MTPD deals with is on a lower level, so called “Quality of Life” crimes, like smoking on a bus or train, loud music, verbal arguments, drug and narcotics issues.  

MTPD Staffing

Two years ago, the MTPD had about 140 sworn officers.   Today we’re at 108 and that’s with 7 recruits who just hit the street 2 weeks ago.   They won’t be ready to work alone for about 4 months.  We lose officers to other agencies and to retirement. 

Fortunately, the Met Council worked to stop the loss by passing a wage increase and by showing support in other ways.  Members of the Council have been coming on ride-alongs to better understand the job.   We know they value what we’re doing. 

Management has had some instability, but we have an interim Chief of Police right now.  We’re stabilizing.

Policing that huge area with a force of just over 100 officers can be daunting.   The MTPD augments the force when they can, using Community Service Officers and Ambassadors throughout the agency.     [EQ: A July 15, 2021 Star Tribune article outlined what CSOs do and how they are keeping trains and buses safer for riders.   See: https://www.startribune.com/metro-transit-to-deploy-community-service-officers-on-trains-buses/600078164/]   Transit Police work overtime for special events and cooperate with other agencies when they request our service.

Most recently UMPD Chief Clark asked for our help to support the “Back to School Initiative”  at the U of M.  In response, the MTPD ran several extra details during move-in week and the first week of school, just to add a higher presence, especially on the West Bank, East Bank and Stadium Village stations. Our CSOs and Ambassadors also helped the students get used to the new U of MN Universal Transit Pass, (and to make sure the system was working).   This program, which added 36,000 new passes, just rolled out this month.

This example highlights the fact that with 8 counties and 90 cities, the many police departments across the cities and counties cooperate and support each other.   We are all in this together.  

Responding to stories of concern published in several media (NextDoor and the S’Trib.) and questions from CHAT :

From NextDoor:  People attending a late night event Downtown found themselves stranded:   Lights on, no trains coming.   They found no signage and no means of communicating with MTC.  The people reporting had money for an Uber, but when their ride came, others were still standing at that station. 

Answer:  We urge people to be “Informed Transit Riders”.   The best way to do that is to use the website www.metrotransit.org   All bus schedules and light rail schedules are listed there.   Additionally, this sounds like the incident was a report from a light rail platform; all current schedules are posted there on each station. Be aware that with reduced staffing, the MT has had to cut schedules, so the times people recall  trains running may not be what they are doing now.   The changes are on the posted schedules.   Additionally, if you are on a light rail platform or at a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) stop, there is a “real-time” lit sign on the platform telling you how soon to expect the next train. 

He’s worked a few Twins games this year.    The last trains are running about 11:20 PM, which is good to remember, but people must also check the posted schedules for updates. 

Metro Transit sends out special alerts on Facebook and Twitter.  People can also call Transit Information at (612) 373-3333.

EQ: Two years ago 2-PAC was told about a Transit service for people who are concerned about a situation on a bus or train.   The service is still a safety feature on buses and trains.   See https://www.metrotransit.org/textforsafety   for a brief explanation of this emergency service.   A text to this site goes to the Transit switchboard operator who notifies MTPD officers and decides whether to notify MPD officers as well.   Additionally, all people riding buses AND trains are all being recorded in real time.   If you want more information about this safety feature, a call to Transit Information, (612) 373-333 (select option 2) will connect you with an informed operator.

Question from the Chat:   Why are trains being reduced from three car trains to two cars?

Answer:   That’s staffing again.   MTC is trying out different solutions to deal with low staffing.   It’s not just a shortage of officers or drivers.   There’s also a shortage of mechanics, especially light rail mechanics. 

Changing frequency is another way to handle low staffing. If the MTC is short of operators, it wants to hit the numbers posted on the schedule.  If the schedule says a unit will show up every fifteen minutes, then a unit must show up as scheduled.  

A third issue is dealing with more aggressive riders.   We hoped that reducing the number of cars from 3 to 2 would benefit policing.  We have 70 to 80 trains running at any given time.  We hoped that by reducing the amount of space on the train, pushing the bad element into a smaller space, we’d be able to control situations better.  

However, that was “derailed.”  Coming out of the pandemic, when riders came back to the trains, they wanted more space to limit the chance of Covid spread so the third car was put back on.  It’s a balancing act:  We need to support increased ridership, to keep the  riders and trains safe, to keep the trains running on time —  all of that with reduced staffing at every level.

Last week was a good example of “rider demand”.   Over the weekend, we had a Twins game, a Gophers game, and the Vikings Football opener.   That’s a lot of extra demand and MTC ran three car trains.  Including a concert before the Vikings game, MTC had 6,000+ people on the BlueLine, pre- and post-game, the Green line was near 3,500 people, pre- and post-    That adds up to nearly 19,000 people moved safely and on time, just on the trains.

From the S’Trib:   During the Pandemic traffic slowdown, airport employees, who had always parked at Humphrey terminal,  had been given parking at the Lindbergh Terminal if that was their work location.   As air traffic started to pick up again, they were told to return to parking at Humphrey.   Some employees reported they felt unsafe on the train that runs between the terminals.   What has MTPD discovered about these complaints?

Answer:  Everyone’s concerns are valid.   A person either feels good in a situation or they don’t.   We have a good partnership with the Airport PD.  Immediately after hearing that complaint, the MTPD ran some extra details down there.   Neither crime stats nor observations support the assertion that the trains between Lindburgh and Humphrey terminals are  hotspots for crime. Since data does not support the complaint, Airport PD and MTPD began to wonder if some people just didn’t want to park at Humphrey and used a complaint to agitate.

Question from the Chat:   Would you reveal the hotspots on the Green and Blue Lines?

Answer:  Franklin and Lake Street are two hotspots  for us.  [Later he mentioned the US Bank station as a lesser site — EQ]  We know what the trains are; we know the feelings people have; we’re not happy either.   If you’ve used those stations or driven past on your bike, you’ve seen a lot of broken glass and trash, and people loitering, just hanging out, and not using the stations to wait for the next train.  These are Quality of Life issues.

Just this month, on Sept. 9, Metro Transit kicked off a Safety and Security Action Plan.  It includes 40+ action items to improve conditions on buses, trains, and stations,  to support employees and to engage customers and partners. 

Lt. Lindner is in charge of one of those initiatives, working with a private security firm.   Together they’ll put officers from the security firm at the Franklin light rail station for a first site, fine tune it and then expand the program from there.  The program has been slow to start up.   Security companies have the same trouble we have with hiring people.   We’ve had more officers down there for the last month, trying to “soften that up.”   When the security company officers show up, we’ll find out if more officers on site makes the difference.   It’s a “Pilot Program”, the first time using the program to see if it makes a difference.

Question from Chat:  Why can’t you just move those people out?

Answer:  this is an issue that was discussed by Lt. Ruberto, who created the Homeless Action Team (HAT) which he presented to 2-PAC  in July, 2019.  This program is still in action and we’re not changing it.   [Read the report at https://courtwatch2pac.com/2019/07/28/july-2-pac-transit-police/  The report includes the “Text for Safety” link, and instructions on using it:  https://www.metrotransit.org/textforsafety  — I checked  EQ]  

Lt. Lindner offered an extended tribute to the work that the Homeless Action Team provides.  They partner with other outreach agencies to offer services of all kinds.   Like everyone else, the HAT program is having financial and staffing issues.   Their outreach partners have had budgets cut and some shelters have actually closed.   Additionally, HAT used to have 8 people, now it’s down to 4.

If people are causing issues on Metro Transit/Met Council property, we want to send out the HAT team to offer services to those people. Like other forces, because of short staffing, we have to go into “reactive” policing instead of “proactive” policing.  You can’t just arrest your community out of social problems.   Also there is a reluctance in the courts to charge people.   During the pandemic, there were times in certain counties when they would not take people in for certain misdemeanors.   At a certain point, Ramsey County would not allow MTPD to bring people in who did not have a Ramsey County warrant.   Since officers couldn’t arrest anyone if they knew the offender was wanted in a different county, they could only “advise” the offender and send them on their way.    That’s not a WIN for anyone.

Question from Chat:  Do you have embedded social workers on MTPD?   Do the HAT workers use social psychology training to do their work?

Answer:   They have training most of us do not have.   I won’t call them social workers, but they do have advanced training in that field.  We also partner with outreach organizations and work side by side to assist people with social needs.  We have not gone down the path of “embedded social workers” but we do have help on a daily basis.  We have partners with those skills; we can get help from the state and other places. also.   The more help we can throw at people who have issues, the better off for all of us.

Hopeful notes:   Although the MTPD is down some 35 officers, the Met Council has given the PD budget advances for 15 additional officers for each of the last two years.   The authorized force is now at 170.  That means the money is sitting here for sixty more officers.*    Transit intends to expand.   As the lines expand, we’ll hire the officers to keep the new lines safe.  We can boost our HAT team, our street teams, and our Force.  We can address the Green Line and Blue Line issues much more effectively [and proactively] with a full force.

 * If you know someone who  might be a good officer, ask them to think about what they will find with the Met Transit.  https://www.metrotransit.org/transit-police-careers  I see a note about pay at $95,000 after four years.   People with a high school diploma can start (part time) at $25/hour while they’re working on their credentials to become a career officer.

Addendum to Lt Lindner’s report on train safety.  

Last fall, a U of MN staff member was pushed down by someone  leaving a Deli in Blegen Hall on the West Bank.   The assailant ran out and boarded the Green Line train that was just pulling in.   Six months later, he pled guilty after viewing the U of MN videos that showed him shoving her down, then followed him to the light rail station. Transit cameras picked him up on the station and documented his ride to a distant station where he left the train and was met by Officers who knew what he looked like and had arrived to take him in.  EQ:  I have known about the U of MN campus security cameras since they were installed, but asked if Transit videos worked the same way.  

When I asked about coordination of video cameras, Lt. Lindner sent me a link to the following: https://online.fliphtml5.com/grquv/eamf/    See the story on page 18. 

View the meeting on Youtube:  https://youtu.be/AI9Ki70sbBE

Emilie Quast, Board member

MPD Second Precinct Advisory Council (2-PAC)

Minneapolis MN 55418
e-quas@umn.edu

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