Although the article "All eyes on Lake St. Station crime" (Aug. 7) focused on an installation of several new cameras at the Metro Transit light-rail station, the story was incomplete and out of focus.
Lake Street/Midtown Station has grown to become one of the busiest on the Hiawatha Line. Customers board light-rail trains there nearly 2,800 times each weekday.
Throughout 2011, Metro Transit and the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization worked together to address community concerns about safety and comfort at the station. We identified promising initiatives that could be launched in a reasonable time frame.
Among them: More transit police patrols in afternoons and evenings; a more frequent cleaning schedule and improvements in station cleaning equipment; high-intensity lighting; music in enclosed vestibules, and additional video cameras.
Metro Transit implemented these improvements in stages, and the overall effect has been positive, according to Corcoran neighborhood leaders who used scorecards to track progress. One community leader said the station went from about a "three" to a "seven or eight" on a 10-point scale after early improvements were made. There is no question that these strategies, taken as a whole, continue to make the station a safer and more pleasant place, despite the article's focus on a couple of incidents.
Our police and operations staff both will benefit from greater coverage provided by the addition of higher-resolution cameras. Since introducing video on buses, trains, stations and other transit facilities, Metro Transit police have used footage in hundreds of investigations to identify and apprehend suspects. Operations staff members in control centers can also remotely manipulate cameras to understand developing events. Better cameras equal better awareness. The article's attempt to question their deterrent value misses the point. They are proven crimefighting tools.
While cameras are valuable, turnstiles are not, despite the article's inference that they represent a viable solution to reducing crime. Turnstiles are capital-, space- and maintenance-intensive and still often also require on-duty personnel to monitor them. Adding a barrier for all customers at one station will not hinder those sufficiently motivated to access station areas. On light-rail systems, walking on the track area to access station platforms is always possible even for those who could not jump a turnstile. That's why nearly every contemporary light-rail system employs a proof-of-payment system.
On the Hiawatha Line, that means sworn Metro Transit police officers enforce fare payment (evaders earn themselves a misdemeanor and $180 fine) and monitor the transit system for customers' well-being. Every week, officers check many thousands of fares. And month after month, compliance rates regularly exceed 99 percent.
Ridership on the Hiawatha Line continues to grow. Lake Street is, literally, in the middle of it -- one of the busiest spots in the transportation network as a connector of rail, bus, auto, bike and pedestrian travel. Incidents at Lake Street/Midtown Station have dropped even as ridership on the line continues to increase. Over the past six months, serious crimes like robberies and assaults, although very few, are nonetheless down. With the addition of hundreds more hours of police presence at the station, nuisance crimes like loitering, public intoxication and scuffles are addressed by officers onsite.
The project at Lake Street/Midtown Station has provided valuable lessons for other areas of the transit network. A similar comprehensive strategy involving a partnership with Brooklyn Center police over the past three months has added targeted patrols, implemented facilities improvements and stepped-up video surveillance. The result? Serious incidents have been reduced at the Brooklyn Center Transit Center by 40 percent.
Overall, transit crime has dropped about 45 percent over the past five years to 6.9 incidents per 100,000 customer trips. The vast majority of incidents are fare evasion citations and nuisance crimes.
The article missed the big picture. Reviewed piecemeal, the use of one tactic or another has been shaded to appear of questionable effectiveness. When brought into focus, the comprehensive strategy has proven effective in improving the safety and comfort of transit in the Twin Cities.
Brian J. Lamb is general manager of Metro Transit.