Crime reported aboard Metro Transit buses and trains, and at its stations and stops throughout the Twin Cities, declined 22% over the summer and into early fall, officials said Wednesday.

They cheered the third-quarter decline at Wednesday's Metropolitan Council meeting, saying it shows that a safety plan adopted last year is bearing fruit even as more commuters return to work.

"We are changing the paradigm in how we do business," said Metro Transit Police Chief Ernest Morales III, who assumed the helm of the department in March. Officers are particularly spending more time on the Blue and Green Line light-rail trains in an effort to make passengers feel safe.

The picture seemingly changes when comparing year-to-date crime statistics, which indicate a 33% hike in crime reports when compared with the same period of 2022. But police attribute that increase to more proactive law enforcement efforts throughout the system — meaning that cops are increasingly cracking down on common offenses such as drug violations, trespassing, disorderly conduct and fraud.

"We still have a ways to go," Morales said. "While numbers matter, perception is also important."

As Metro Transit seeks to build ridership following the pandemic, it has launched a multifaceted strategy to improve safety over the past year, ranging from decriminalizing fare evasion to hiring nonprofit social service organizations for passengers in need, to partnering with regional police departments.

But on Wednesday, a potential new approach to improve safety was revealed by the Met Council, which oversees Metro Transit.

Officials said they would study whether adding gates or turnstiles at key light-rail stations will deter fare dodgers and thus increase passengers' sense of security. The possible addition of barriers "is a question we get a lot," said Metro Transit General Manager Lesley Kandaras.

The light-rail stations to be studied will be Franklin Avenue and 46th Street on the Blue Line; Snelling Avenue on the Green Line; and Warehouse District/Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis, which is served by both lines.

The study will estimate how much it would cost to make physical changes to the stations, and look at other transit agencies nationwide that have attempted similar projects.

Transit officials said they are embarking on the study knowing that traditional turnstiles at transit stations "can be challenging to navigate," especially for mobility-impaired passengers. Police would still be needed to monitor fare evasion and turnstile jumping.

"The question we're asking is whether there are renovations, retrofits and infrastructure improvements we should be doing at the platforms," said Jim Harwood, Metro Transit's assistant engineering and construction director.

For now, Metro Transit will continue to use unarmed private security guards at problem stations to tamp down crime. Those stations include Lake Street/Midtown and Franklin Avenue on the Blue Line; the Brooklyn Center Transit Center; the Interstate 35W and Lake Street Station on the Orange Line bus-rapid transit; and the Chicago-Lake Transit Center. There are also occasional patrols at the Uptown Transit Station.

Private security also is expected to be added to the Green Line's Central Station Vertical Circulation Building in downtown St. Paul.

Morales said security guards' presence at the stations is working, along with Metro Transit police riding more often on the trains.

"We ask police to step out of their cars and strategically ride for three or four stops, and then step out on the platform and interact with people," he said.

When tracking the FBI's top seven crimes nationwide — including homicide, forcible sex offenses, robbery, assault, personal and motor vehicle theft and burglary — Metro Transit said reports in those categories declined 12% between the second and third quarters this year.

Meanwhile, enforcement of lower-level crime — arrests related to drugs, fare evasion, false information/identity theft, loitering, disorderly conduct, liquor and trespassing — decreased 37% in the third quarter over the second quarter.

A big challenge for Metro Transit continues to be recruitment of new police and community security officers. The department has 106 full-time officers, about the same as the beginning of the year, even though 171 full-time positions are budgeted. Eighty part-time officers are budgeted, but only 34 are working.

The number of community service officers — uniformed police officers in training — stands at 14, while 70 positions are budgeted. Morales said the department is working with Hennepin County Technical College to attract more community service officers to the force.

The need for a safe transit experience has become even more pronounced as more people return to the office, even if only part time. Metro Transit's overall ridership this year has crept back to almost 60% of what it was before the pandemic.

Earlier this week, Metro Transit officials said the system had provided more than 4.1 million rides in September, the highest monthly ridership since early 2020. With average weekday ridership of 133,995, ridership is up more than 15% when compared to the same period last year.