MINNEAPOLIS — The final transportation bill passed by the Minnesota House and Senate this weekend includes funding and initiatives for Metro Transit safety, following a string of high-profile crimes near light rail stations in recent months.
The latest incident occurred on early Saturday morning, when police say a fight led a man into the path of an oncoming train at the Warehouse District station.
Through a metro sales tax increase, the transportation bill includes funding that can be devoted to public safety. Specifically, the spending measure also allocates $2 million for mental health and addiction intervention teams and gives Metro Transit broader authority -- beyond just police -- to penalize people who don't pay their fares aboard trains and buses.
Since Metro Transit currently operates an "open system" without turnstiles, Gov. Walz proposed nearly $8 million to add these barriers at three platform locations. A spokesperson for the Senate DFL said that while the final bill does not specifically include this money, some of the funding allocated by the legislature could theoretically be used by the Met Council for additional barriers, if they choose.
"At this time, we have to deal with the reality that the system isn't closed," Metro Transit Police Chief Ernest Morales III said. "Let me be clear about this: Turnstiles serve as a barrier. If I have criminal intent, I'm still going to get by that barrier and commit my crimes. Enforcing fare evasions, enforcing property crimes, but more importantly enforcing the code of conduct -- that will minimize and curtail this negative behavior."
According to Morales III, who took over the job earlier this year, "Group A" serious crimes jumped 66% during the first quarter of 2023 on the Metro Transit system. However, he said that 38% of those crimes were related to drugs.
Morales III said that Metro Transit has been holding outreach events, including one at Mall of America, to deal with issues of addiction, homelessness and mental health.
"Our initiatives are to get police officers out there. Omnivision is very important, but more importantly when we do come across these individuals," Morales III said, "I'm not going to criminalize homelessness. I'm not going to criminalize chemically dependent individuals. But we will get them the resources they need."
Morales III said Metro Transit is also partnering with private security to increase their overall presence across the system. The Metro Transit Police Department, which swore in three new officers earlier this month, has 109 officers currently on the force. That's well below the maximum strength of 171, although Morales III said the department has 23 candidates "in background" for possible hiring.
"I'm very optimistic. I believe we're building momentum and the interest is out there," Morales III said. "They understand there's a new chief in town."
For a full list of bills sent to Gov. Tim Walz for his signature this year, click here.
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