Buses and light rail in the Twin Cities have become a homeless shelter of sorts, prompting Metro Transit to come up with a new initiative to deal with the issue.
About 180 to 250 homeless people ride each night, Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington said Tuesday.
“For one, transit is safe. … It is a dry and a sanitary space,” the chief said.
In a report to legislators Tuesday, Harrington also said more officers are on buses and light rail for security reasons and that service calls have gone up dramatically.
However, he said more serious crimes have gone down compared to last year.
“Transit is in fact one of the safest places in the Twin Cities area,” Harrington said during the House Transportation Committee finance meeting.
Yet, legislators think more could be done to prevent crimes.
“I think we all need to be honest with what’s going on in our communities,” said the committee’s chairman, Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska.
Harrington said he doesn’t have enough officers on the ground to combat crime.
“The issue is we could not staff that 24/7, 365 days a year,” Harrington said. Twelve to 15 officers of 115 total work each shift.
Service calls have gone down in places where police presence has been beefed up. Fewer than 1 percent of people on trains violate fare policies when officers are on those trains, the chief said.
The most serious crimes, including homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, have gone down by about 6 percent from January to July in 2017 to that same period in 2018, according to data presented at the meeting. However, less serious crimes like theft and fare evasion have gone up about 14 percent.
When metro police are directed to specific “hot spots,” calls for service have gone down. However, Metro Transit is on track to receive about 72,000 calls compared to last year, which had 67,000, the chief said.
“Those calls are everything from homicide to nuisance complaints and everything in between,” Harrington said.
Harrington spent about an hour going through the data and sharing how his officers are responding. In response to the number of homeless, he has started a response team to steer them to better resources.
The meeting was held after Torkelson’s request asking for crime data on Met Council properties from the past three years.
“I look forward to my next ride on the Green Line and I hope to feel very safe,” Torkelson said after the presentation.