MINNEAPOLIS — Metro Transit is one step closer to stationing unarmed security personnel at six of its transit centers. At a committee meeting Wednesday, the Metropolitan Council voted to allow contract negotiations to begin with security company Allied Universal. Security personnel are expected to begin sometime this spring.
During the discussion, council members emphasized that this is one part of a larger safety plan to tackle violent crime and drug use occurring both on and off buses and trains.
"There's no question," frequent rider and south Minneapolis resident, Robin, said at the Chicago-Lake Transit Center on Wednesday. "There's been all sorts of trouble here."
"On the bus, I haven't noticed too much that concerns me but at the stations, I've not only heard but seen quite a few overdoses and that's really concerning," fellow rider Donnie Collier added.
Metro Transit says initial reports indicate there were 15 suspected overdoses this month alone, which follows 16 suspected overdoses in February and another 16 in January this year. A spokesperson confirmed that almost 50 cases occurred both on transit vehicles and at wait stations.
Friday, Metro Transit issued a bulletin to all staff regarding passenger welfare checks.
"Due to a recent rise in overdoses, staff should not assume individuals who appear to be asleep are not in need of immediate medical attention," it read. "Your actions can help save a life."
Back in the fall, Metro Transit also launched a pilot program, adding unarmed security to the Franklin Avenue Light Rail Station and the Lake Street/Midtown Light Rail Station. Now that council has advanced the expansion plan, security could soon be added to four additional locations, including the Chicago-Lake Transit Center and Uptown Transit Station in Minneapolis, Central Station in downtown Saint Paul, and the Brooklyn Center Transit Center.
"The program saw an overall decrease in police calls for service at the Franklin Avenue Station," District 4 council member Deb Barber said.
The two-year contract for security services is not to exceed $6 million and would be broken down to $3 million per year.
District 14 council member Toni Carter asked, "Will they link through Metro Transit Police... or is there an opportunity for social services?"
"Whatever the issue is, if it's something they can't handle or they can't answer or don't have a clear path forward, that they would just get us involved," responded Lt. Jason Lindner with Metro Transit Police.
Lindner said it's possible the security personnel would begin shifts in about a month but said it's unclear whether they would start at all six stations at once or stagger them.
"There is an attempt by law enforcement locally to be lenient in wake of the George Floyd tragedy but unfortunately I think the pendulum has swung way the other way and you can't have police brutality but you also just can't have out of control criminal behavior in and around our public transportation system," bus rider Robin said.
Starting Thursday, the Uptown Transit Station's indoor waiting area will temporarily close. Metro Transit says it will reopen once the security officers are in place. In the meantime, crews plan to deep clean the area and make repairs. Shelters were already installed to provide some wind blockage during the closure.
Transit Driver Appreciation Day is Saturday, March 18.
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