The rush-hour peak is about ready to hit as Metro Transit police officers Corey Martens and Tim Conley make the rounds on a Blue Line train in Minneapolis, checking for tickets and signs of trouble.
Beginning next month, just across the river, their Metro Transit colleagues, aided by St. Paul police, will run through the same daily routine as the Twin Cities’ newest light rail line — the Green Line — opens for business.
Just like on the Blue Line, establishing a prominent police presence to ensure commuter safety will be key.
“You want the good guys and the bad guys to see us,” Martens said.
As the June 14 rollout of the Green Line nears, Metro Transit police are already bolstering the ranks, adding 22 full-time officers dedicated to the Green Line to ensure that passengers, pedestrians and other motorists stay safe.
Some will patrol on the trains. Others will work on platforms or walk or drive the surrounding neighborhoods. Whether in uniform or plain clothes, on bike or in a squad, all are expected to “own” their beat, authorities said.
“We’re trying to get to the beat concept — the rail beat concept,” said Capt. Jim Franklin, who oversees the East Command, whose officers will police the line along with other transit routes in the city and east metro. “With that you get geographical ownership. You get officers that know the area very well. They know the businesses. They know the community and really will get to know the ridership.”
In all, 45 officers will work out of the East Command building, located on Transfer Road near University Avenue. One of their main goals will be to solidify relationships with community members and other local law enforcement to make the 11-mile Green Line route comfortable and safe.
“Because of the preparation we’ve done, because of the partnerships we’ve built, I truly believe we’re better positioned today than we ever have been to serve the communities along the Green Line corridor,” Franklin said.
Unlike Metro Transit, the St. Paul Police Department isn’t adding officers or changing beat assignments in response to the expected boom in ridership and traffic. But resources could be shifted if necessary, said Senior Cmdr. Paul Iovino, who leads the department’s Western District.
“We really feel that our collaborative approach with transit PD [puts us] in a really good place to take on some of the opportunities and challenges,” he said.
One of those challenges is addressing the potential for more crime in an area already heavily traveled and congested.
Some of the most common offenses throughout the Metro Transit system, according to police records, have been disorderly conduct, fare evasion and drunken behavior. Add thousands of light-rail commuters daily between the downtowns, and you have “potentially a target-rich environment,” Iovino said.
“We’re going to have a lot of people commuting from work, and they’ve got laptops and they’ve got purses and billfolds and briefcases and iPhones,” he added. “They’ve got all of these very expensive, sought-after, easily pawned, easily sold items with them.”
To make commuters aware of the potential for trouble, police plan to pass out business cards with robbery prevention tips. Among them: Don’t lend a cellphone to a stranger and stay aware of the surroundings.
Metro Transit police also recently hired a retired St. Paul police officer to analyze crime data to help patrols proactively respond to trouble areas.
Technology tools also will help. Each of the line’s 18 train platforms will have security cameras, emergency telephone call boxes, variable message signs and a public address system to allow Metro Transit staff to talk to customers. The trains also will have cameras and intercoms so riders can contact operators when there’s a problem.
Franklin said that because the route, which links the downtowns and runs largely along University Avenue, is already served by buses, police are familiar with many of the potential problems that could surface.
“The Green Line will operate in what is already the busiest east-west transit corridor in the state,” said Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington, adding that he doesn’t expect to see “a significant increase” in crime.
While ensuring passenger safety is a top priority, officers have also been busy in recent weeks schooling motorists and pedestrians to watch out for the passing trains.
Driving along University Avenue in his orange Dodge Charger during a late afternoon shift, St. Paul traffic enforcement officer Scott Braski said he is more worried about educating people than citing them.
“They just think cars,” he said. “They’re not thinking trains.”
When he isn’t pulling over speeding motorists, Braski visits bus stops to pass out safety brochures to riders and to talk with those he spots violating safety rules around the rail line to keep them from making dangerous mistakes.
“I don’t want you to be a hood ornament,” he warned several teenagers who crossed the tracks outside a designated crossing area.
Last month, Metro Transit and St. Paul police launched an education and enforcement campaign to make sure pedestrians and drivers stay safe near the line. Despite the campaign, several vehicles have already struck test trains.
And with some traffic being diverted from University Avenue to make way for light rail, police are seeing more motorists speeding or running stops signs in the surrounding neighborhoods, Iovino said.
Still, with three weeks to go before the Green Line opens, Iovino is confident officers will be ready.
“We feel we’ve had a lot of practical exercises and a lot of meetings and discussions,” he said. But, he added, “A lot of this is unknown.”