Metro Transit admits massive racial disparities in fare enforcement


Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington, who oversees the most diverse police agency in Minnesota, says more has to be done to better Metro Transit's relationship with the community.

At a recent youth group gathering in east St. Paul, community activist Timothy Turner played a recording he made at a bus stop last winter. A Metro Transit police officer had just pulled a group of young men off a bus and thrown one of them up against a wall.

In the recording, Turner stopped and challenged the cop’s heavy-handed approach. The officer defended himself, saying he had no way of knowing if the kid had any weapons in his pockets. “It’s my job not to go home hurt,” he says on the tape.

“Well,” Turner shot back, “It’s okay if he goes home dead because he scared one of y’all?” The cop backed off a bit.

Across the Twin Cities, youth of color are more likely to have run-ins with Metro Transit police because they’re the ones who take the trains and buses everywhere, says activist Christopher Melendez. Metro Transit always seems to stack the bus stops with cops when they get off from school. And when it comes to the trains, it always seems to be the young black men who are stopped and questioned even though everyone skips on the fare now and then because there are no turnstiles on the platform.

On Thursday, Metro Transit released the results of a months-long data analysis of transit policing, confirming what people have been saying for a long time. For first-time fare evasions, black people were 26 percent more likely to be cited than warned compared to whites, and Native Americans were 152 percent more likely to be ticketed.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” said Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington.

Alluding to Metro Transit’s high profile takedown of autistic teen Marcus Abrams at a St. Paul light rail platform this summer, Harrington said his department has already taken corrective action in response to community complaints. Since September, Metro Transit has sought help from mental health and civil rights organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Autism Society, and the St. Paul and Minneapolis chapters of the NAACP. The newest class of graduates from the police academy have received mandatory training on how to work with autistic youth and people with mental health issues.

Every officer in the department will soon go through implicit bias training sponsored by the Justice Department, Harrington promised.

“We’re not a department that shies away from looking at itself,” he said. “I recognize that we started down this venture of being a real, true urban police department, there are challenges with that.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which requested the data, will be analyzing the results separately.

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