A veteran police commander with a political résumé will take charge of law enforcement for the Twin Cities' rapidly growing transit network.

John Harrington, a retiring DFL state senator and former police chief in St. Paul, was named Monday as the new chief of police for Metro Transit buses, light rail and commuter rail.

Harrington was selected over two other candidates for the job, including the current acting police chief.

He takes over a force of 124 full- and part-time officers as Metro Transit prepares to triple the miles of light-rail transit by adding lines over the next six years in St. Paul, Minneapolis and the southwest suburbs. The agency also is building bus rapid transit in the south suburbs expected to open next year.

Harrington, 56, takes over the transit police amid complaints about crime and other incidents at the Lake Street LRT station, as well as trouble at some bus stops in the two downtowns. He said city police chiefs "have expressed concerns about ... transit hubs."

"There's probably a half dozen that I think are on somebody's radar at this point," he said. "I just want to find out how serious that is."

"As we increase light rail, and ridership on those lines ... we want to make sure that those people who get on the new LRT lines are greeted by transit cops so they feel safe," he said.

He said the expansion would likely require an increase in transit police.

Harrington replaces former Chief Dave Indrehus, who retired in January. Deputy Chief A.J. Olson will continue to serve as acting chief until Harrington assumes his duties Sept. 4.

"I'm thrilled to bring John on board as chief," said Pat Born, administrator of the Metropolitan Council, which runs Twin Cities transit. Citing Harrington's experience working with Metro Transit police while at St. Paul, Born said, "He is familiar with policing transit."

Harrington served as chief of the St. Paul Police Department from 2004 to 2010, and his service with the department goes back more than 30 years. He currently represents a St. Paul district in the Legislature, but he failed to win his DFL Party's endorsement and decided not to seek re-election this fall.

A frustrated state senator

In the Legislature, Harrington took a stance on several law enforcement issues. He supported eliminating immunity for legislators arrested for drunken driving during a legislative session. He opposed a proposal to allow gun owners to use deadly force virtually anywhere they feel threatened, saying the proposal had "ominous implications for the peace and well-being of Minnesota."

He cited the fight over gun use as an aggravation and example of how partisanship can override common ground, with lawmakers telling him privately they opposed the measure but later voting for it "apparently along party lines."

Harrington, who will be paid $122,000, will have an ally from his Senate tenure on the Metropolitan Council. Council member Gary Cunningham contributed $150 to Harrington's Senate campaign in 2010.

"I became a true believer after I heard what his platform was," Cunningham said about his donation. "I consider him a friend."

The Met Council reopened its initial application period for the police chief position, and Harrington was among applicants during the extended solicitation.

Harrington is on the board of the Upper Midwest Community Policing Institute, which contracted earlier this year with the Met Council to review the effectiveness of the transit police. The agency said his association with the nonprofit did not influence the selection process.

"We were fully aware of his association with the group doing the review and made arrangements to ensure he was in no way involved in the review," said Met Council spokeswoman Meredith Salsbery.

Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504