Metro Transit police chief addresses spike in serious crime on light rail trains

Metro Transit Green Line train at Hamline Ave. station on April 17, 2019
A Metro Transit Green Line train arrives at Hamline Avenue Station on April 17, 2019. Serious crime reported on Metro Transit’s light rail trains is up by 23.3 percent through September of this year when compared to last year.
Matt Sepic | MPR News file

Serious crime reported on Metro Transit’s light rail trains is up by 23.3 percent through September of this year when compared to last year. Metro Transit data going back to 2012 do not show a clear up or down trend for crime, but Metro Transit Police Chief Eddie Frizell says he’s working to address the concerns riders have.

Frizell sat down with MPR News on Monday to share his thoughts on the increase.

Below is an edited transcript of the interview. Use the audio player above to listen to an excerpt.

What do you say to criticism that there aren’t enough police or other personnel visible on trains and Metro Transit stops?

We are operating with the resources that we currently have … We're operating off of one-time funding. So, the efforts that we do put forward [are] unsustainable at our current budgeted rates. I have the ability to place what I have where we need. And again, I'll fall back on the crime trends and analysis to make sure that I'm placing those resources properly where they need to be.

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When you focus on a spot where crimes have occurred, do perpetrators go elsewhere?

I've commonly referred to what's called — what I call it anyway — the proverbial crime balloon. If you squeeze it in one area, it's going to bubble out in an area.

So, what I've learned over the last 25-plus years is how to almost predict where those crimes will go. That's the tricky part of crime fighting. Once you apply those resources to the areas where it's needed, you have to be able to say, “Well, OK. There could very well be an uptick in this area caused by the increased enforcement in this area.”

So, that's the game. That's how it's played.

How safe are trains and buses in the Twin Cities?

We're giving it everything that we got. It's important to me that our ridership and as well as our operators that operate our buses and light rail and trains are also safe.

When I apply my resources, I have all those entities in my thoughts to make sure [they are] mitigating crime so individuals can go about their day-to-day activities and not have to worry about those types of things.

Across the country, fare enforcement and transit arrests disproportionately affect people of color. Because of that, a group called Twin Cities Transit Riders Union is suggesting your department turned to community, nonprofits and social workers before putting more armed officers on transit. What do you think of that?

I have a long history of doing just that. I've said over the last couple of decades that you can't always police your way out of certain situations. So, I've utilized livability entities such as MADD, Dads or Mother’s Love. We've also used the Downtown Improvement District Ambassadors as well as their livability team.

It is my intent as chief to continue those types of relationships and utilize those livability teams and every opportunity that I can. It is very important for me to provide a department that's procedurally just. To make sure that there’s transparency — that the community recognizes that we aren't doing these things just because of implicit bias or anything along those lines, but utilizing 21st century policing techniques to make sure that they understand we're doing the right things for the right reason.

I want to also say that the Metro Transit Police Department is one of the most diverse in the state. Over 40 percent of our officers are people of color and women. We speak well over 16 different languages across the board. So when we go to work, this department truly reflects the community in which we serve.

Would you support funding for more officers to put on light rail trains?

I'll never say no to more officers. And again, we're doing with the resources we currently have in any more resources that could help us pass this one-time funding for safety and a perception of safety would be more than welcome.