A new survey found morale among Metro Transit police officers has plunged since the months leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many have opted to leave the department as a result.

The survey was released Friday by the Metro Transit Police Work Group, which is advising the Metropolitan Council on ways to improve safety on public transportation throughout the Twin Cities.

When the survey was distributed in mid-October, 63% of the department's police officers and staff responded — all told, about 118 people.

The results surprised some members of the work group. "This is really, really grim," Met Council Member Wendy Wulff said.

The survey included 11 questions that were part of a previous questionnaire distributed to transit police department employees in January 2020, just months before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, George Floyd's murder and the unrest that followed.

Of those responding to the survey, 52% were men, 21% were women and 27% identified as nonbinary or declined to provide their gender. In addition, 71% taking the survey were white and 29% people of color; overall, nearly half of the department's police officers are people of color.

When asked if police department employees would recommend their workplace to prospective job applicants — a key question gauging job satisfaction — 43% said they were likely to do so, as opposed to 68% in early 2020.

When asked if they've considered a career change, 58% of those employees responding said yes, compared with 42% in January 2020.

Lt. Mario Ruberto said 46 employees have left the department since January. "It's very frustrating for those of us on the street," he said.

Metro Transit spokesman Howie Padilla said the police department employs 113 full-time police officers but is authorized to hire 156 full-timers and 57 part-time officers.

Thirty-two full-time officers and four part-time officers have left the department since Jan. 1 "for a variety of reasons," Padilla said. Nine full-time officers have been hired in the same period, and five are attending the police academy.

Ruberto said the majority of officers are leaving to join other police departments or law enforcement agencies, as opposed to pursuing different careers.

This is starkly different from the "Great Resignation," a hallmark of the pandemic in which millions of workers are quitting their jobs to pursue different interests and careers.

"They're saying, 'This is an environment I can't be part of anymore,' " officer Frank Hintz said.

Metro Transit Police Chief Eddie Frizell says he regularly meets with officers, including those leaving the department. "Often, as is the case with these survey results, we hear about issues both specific to our agency and issues that address broader concerns society wrestles with every day," he said.

The survey indicated remaining officers "want change to prevent others from leaving," and there's concern that the issues prompting people to leave "are not understood by leadership."

More police officers need to be hired because of staff shortages — often, the only way to get a day off is to call in sick, Ruberto said. Only 12% of the survey respondents said they have enough time to complete their work tasks.

About 90% of Metro Transit police officers say there's no appropriate follow-up if they arrest or cite someone, and many believe they should not be responsible for fare enforcement.

About a third or fewer of those responding to the survey said they felt supported by the communities they serve, leadership at Metro Transit and its police department, the Met Council and other employees, including transit supervisors. Only 10% said they felt supported by the council.

"This is a reality check for us as a council," said Council Member Susan Vento.

She noted that with the Gold and Purple bus rapid transit lines planned for the eastern suburbs she represents, "communities will be alarmed if we're losing police officers." (The Orange Line bus rapid transit, which will link Minneapolis to Burnsville, is slated to begin service in December.)

The work group is expected to recommend strategies for bolstering safety on transit, reporting back to the full council in late February.

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752