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Posts in Category: Transit Police

Community METRO Green Line Safety Transit Police

Transit Police geared up for Green Line 

| Thursday, May 29, 2014 10:51:00 AM

Guest post by Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington

University Avenue looks much different today than it did when I began riding Metro Transit buses as a patrol officer more than 20 years ago. The METRO Green Line promises to bring even more change to the corridor, long the busiest east-west transitway in Minnesota.

While we don't expect light rail to dramatically alter the public safety dynamic in St. Paul, the return of rail service is something everyone along the route must prepare for – including local, county and state police.

Metro Transit Police officers are doing just that, connecting with community members and residents, strengthening partnerships with partner agencies and growing to meet the demands of our growing transit system.

In March and April, Metro Transit and partner agencies held joint emergency preparedness exercises at Stadium Village and Raymond Avenue stations to simulate emergencies involving light-rail. To reinforce safety messages, Metro Transit and St. Paul police in April began an outreach campaign to provide motorists, pedestrians, transit customers and bicyclists the information they need to safely navigate the Green Line corridor. We’ve interacted directly with hundreds of residents and will continue this important work after trains open to the public on June 14.

We’ve also grown the department to keep up with the expansion of transit services. Another 20 part-time officers were sworn in this week, expanding the force to a diverse group of 94 full-time and 100 part-time officers. Many of these officers will work out of our new East Command center near University Avenue, including 22 who will focus specifically on the Green Line and the neighborhoods it serves.

As Capt. Jim Franklin recently told The Star Tribune, the “rail beat concept” will be a key to effectively policing the Green Line corridor. “You get officers that know the area very well,” Franklin told the newspaper. “They know the businesses. They know the community and really will get to know the ridership.”

Building these relationships will be aided by the fact that officers will spend more time than ever patrolling on foot, on bike and on board trains and buses. A number of officers were recently added to our bike patrol squad, which can be more nimble in Green Line’s dense urban environment. In Minneapolis, we are participating once again in Minneapolis SafeZone, a multi-agency effort that provides additional patrols to ensure safety during the busy summer months.

While building personal relationships is important, we are also harnessing data to focus our efforts and using technology more than ever. Each Green Line station and all light-rail trains are equipped with multiple security cameras that can be monitored in real time. Call boxes at each station are available in the event of an emergency.

Like University Avenue, our department will continue to evolve and grow as trains transform the way Twin Cities residents get around. Whatever the future holds our fundamental approach to policing and commitment to providing a safe, secure environment for all who use or interact with transit will never change.

    > Star Tribune: Get a driver's point of view riding alongside Green Line

    > Police Chief John Harrington on MPR's Daily Circuit

    > MPR: Walk, bike and drive safely along the Green Line

    > Pioneer Press: Policing the Green Line: Metro Transit promises cameras, cops, analysis

    > Star Tribune: Police prepare for safety on Green Line

    > WCCO: Officials work to educate public on Green Line safety

    > Fox 9: Officers patrol University Avenue to raise light rail awareness

    > KSTP: Navigating the new METRO Green Line

    > Pioneer Press: Green Line will require safety heads-up by motorists and pedestrians

    > Star Tribune: Emergency-preparedness drill near the U tests response to train-bus crash

    > Pioneer Press: Light rail readies to roll, and St. Paul responders prepare, too

    > KSTP: Crews practice emergency response with light rail derailment situation

    > Star Tribune: Busier, safer St. Paul streets

    > Green Line Safety

    > Transit Police on board and on bike

Bicycle Bus Community METRO Green Line Safety Transit Police

Transit Police on board and on bike 

| Monday, May 05, 2014 12:00:00 AM

The Metro Transit Police Department's Bike Patrol poses during a training at Fort Snelling.When Sgt. Leo Castro is on patrol in St. Paul, he doesn’t need to roll down the window to get fresh air.

That’s because he’s clipped into the pedals of a Cannondale mountain bike, traveling the streets on a pair of 26-inch wheels to monitor busy boarding locations and respond when needed.

Castro and other Metro Transit Police Department officers will be getting even more time in the open air when the METRO Green Line begins service on June 14.

Because the light-rail line runs through two downtowns, the University of Minnesota and a busy commercial corridor, Transit Police will be riding bikes, patrolling on foot and spending time aboard buses and trains so they can have more mobility and respond as quickly as possible.

“As a bike officer, we can get to certain areas where a squad car can’t go and get there a lot more quickly,” Castro said. “Even in rush hour we can cover three or four blocks in a couple of minutes.”

In 2010, Castro became the first Metro Transit police officer to get trained and certified as a bike patrol officer. Today, he leads a unit of 16 officers who split time between their bikes and a squad car. Bike officers will also load their bikes on bus racks and bring them on trains while doing fare checks and other on-board policing.

As part of their basic training, bike officers are taught how to ride up and down stairs, dismount and make arrests and navigate safely through traffic and large crowds. Transit Police also recently participated in “Bike Rapid Response” training with the Minneapolis Police Department to learn how bikes can be used to calm crowds during large events, such as the MLB All-Star Game.

Officer Daniel Wallace is part of the department’s newest class of bike officers and comes with two years of previous experience patrolling the Mall of America by bike. Wallace said one of the biggest challenges to patrolling on a bike is carrying all of the gear. A “duty belt” with a radio and other equipment weighs around 30 pounds.

“Once you learn how to ride you never forget,” Wallace said. “But doing it with all the equipment is a little more of a challenge.”

Bike patrols primarily take place in the spring and summer, but officers aren't afraid to go out in difficult weather conditions, including ice, snow and rain.

While physically demanding, Officer Kelly Franco sought a spot on the bike unit because it offered variety and a unique opportunity to interact more with the public.

“When you’re in a squad car, the majority of the time you’re going from call to call,” she said. “But when you’re on bike patrol you’re mingling and interacting with people and other bike riders so you get to see a different perspective.”

In his experience on the street, Castro said being on a bike has allowed him to quickly identify and apprehend suspects, respond to medical emergencies and generally be more proactive about quality of life issues such as loitering.

Being on a bike has also been a great way to combine his interest in biking with his job and public service, said Castro, the department’s 2010 Officer of the Year.

“I’m passionate about bikes, but I’m equally passionate about community-oriented policing,” he said. “Really, that’s what this is all about.”

    > Metro Transit Police Department

    > For Transit Police K-9s, all work and a little play

Community Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line Safety Transit Police

For Transit Police K-9s, all work and a little play 

| Thursday, January 30, 2014 12:00:00 AM

K-9 Handler Alex Johannes tucked a pound of ammonium nitrate into a canister, sealed the lid and spanned the small conference room. Spotting a small cardboard box in the corner, Johannes concealed the canister and exited the room.

Minutes later, he and his trained bomb-sniffing dog Merle walked back through the door. After 30 seconds of scouring, the three-year-old black lab zeroed in on the box and took a seat. His work here was done.

Johannes and Merle are one of four K-9-officer duos at the Metro Transit Police Department. The officers and K-9s spend their days at busy boarding areas as well as light-rail and Northstar trains proactively searching for potential explosives. The unit also works closely with regional partners and during large events such as Twins and Vikings games.

The good news: the dogs haven’t caught a whiff of anything suspect since Metro Transit’s K-9 unit was created in 2007.

“It’s a huge responsibility so our hope is that he (Merle) would respond just the way he did today,” said Johannes, a former TSA agent who joined Transit Police four years ago.

Like the other K-9 handlers, Johannes said he was drawn to the idea of working with a dog because of the special bond that can be developed. The officers spend their entire days with the animals and keep them at home during their off hours.

Johannes has spent the last 14 months with Merle and said he has grown to see him as another member of his family. It helps that the two share a similar enthusiasm for their work.

“They try to match personalities and we’re a pretty good fit,” Johannes said. “Merle and I are both high drive, high energy.”

Officer Joshua Scharber said he and his K-9 partner Rusty, the newest members of the K-9 unit, have also grown close. “I’ve always wanted to be a part of a K9 unit,” Scharber said. “It’s just the bond you create – you can’t find that with a regular officer.”

Like Merle, all of the K-9s regularly test their skills by sniffing for explosive ingredients hidden by their handlers, typically at Metro Transit facilities. Once found, the specially-trained labs are rewarded with a chew toy and affection.

The furry hedgehog and other toys at officers’ disposal seem to offer more than enough motivation.

“When I say ‘Are you ready to go to work,’ he’s already in the car,” said Steve Schoephoerster, the longest tenured member of the K-9 unit.

While the K-9 unit hasn’t uncovered any active threats, they’ve responded to several unattended or suspicious packages. The unit works hand-in-hand with area bomb squads, which are equipped to disable bombs if anything is found.

While the risk is low, K-9 officer Scott Tinucci said the unit plays an important role in deterring activity simply by being out in the field and remaining visible. And if anything ever were to occur, he said, he and his two- and four-legged partners are ready.

“People will say the reward is when you find something, but the real reward is when you do a sweep and you don’t find anything and can say it’s all clear,” said Tinucci, who partners with the unit’s only female, Izzy.

“The bottom line is you hope you never have to use it but all it takes is one find and how many people have you saved?”

Metro Transit’s K-9 Unit

    Alex Johannes and Merle (black lab, male)                Scott Tinucci and Izzy (yellow lab, female)

   Joshua Scharber and Rusty (brown lab, male)      Steve Schoephoerster and Cooper (black lab, male)      

Retro Transit Transit Police

Lieutenant recalls progress of Metro Transit Police Department 

| Wednesday, November 20, 2013 4:16:00 PM

When Charles Donaldson began policing buses in 1985, he’d simply leave his downtown Minneapolis apartment, walk to the corner and hop aboard.

He carried no radio to keep him in touch with other officers and worked a loosely-coordinated schedule that sometimes left him working solo. Because the Metro Transit Police Department had not yet been written into state law, Donaldson carried his badge and ticket book from the Minneapolis Police Department, where he was a patrolman.

For the most part he worked overnight shifts on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, patrolling the busiest local routes – including a trip to the Roller Garden skating rink in St. Louis Park popular with young people. On many occasions, he was partnered with current Police Chief John Harrington.

“Basically, we were riding around in buses, sitting in the back seat and only taking on the stuff you felt comfortable with,” Donaldson said recently. “It could be a little fearful because you could take someone off the bus and not know if help was coming or not.”

Things have improved quite a bit since then.

The Metro Transit Police Department was written into law in 1994, transforming it from a group of around 50 part-time Minneapolis and St. Paul police officers to a full-fledged force with the rights and responsibilities of other Minnesota police departments. A pair of used State Patrol vehicles and uniforms were purchased to get the new force off the ground.

“For us, it was kind of a shock to change from a security division to a police department,” Donaldson remembered. “But it was also a relief because now you had a statute to work with and more jurisdictional authority.”

Donaldson was among the first to transition from city police to a role with the newly-established police department, becoming a full-time night supervisor in 1999. At the time, the department was gearing up for the opening of the METRO Blue Line.

For Donaldson, the career move presented him with a unique opportunity to help build the fledgling department as well as a chance to work more with the public.

“This is a much more people-oriented business,” he said. “You’re not just going from call to call to call.”

Today, Donaldson is among the most tenured officers at the Metro Transit Police Department. He leads the department’s investigation division, collecting statements, searching video and assembling other evidence as he looks into operator assaults, thefts, fights and other issues. Donaldson also plays a lead in accident reconstruction.

Many of the tools now at Donaldson’s disposal were unimaginable when he began his career. Data is used to share information and establish crime trends while the introduction of security cameras provides video that can help pinpoint suspects.

The locations of all buses and trains are tracked in remote control centers that are staffed by supervisors who can be contacted by a rail or bus operator in an instant. Law enforcement can also be dispatched at a moment's notice from control centers.

“Video didn’t come around until the 90s,” Donaldson said. “The ability to pull tape has really improved things.”

Also new: a larger, more diverse force and a broad, eight-county coverage area that includes not just buses and light-rail trains but more than 100 Park & Rides and the Northstar Commuter Rail Line. After hiring its first full-time officers in 2008, the department has now expanded to 83 full-time sworn and licensed Metro Transit police officers and 60 part-time officers who speak a variety of languages.

Next year will bring another new chapter for Donaldson and his fellow officers: the opening of the METRO Green Line between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul. As part of the preparation for its opening, the department has opened a new east command center off University Avenue.

However his role changes in the future, Donaldson said his motivation will remain the same.

“The most gratifying part of this for me is talking to our customers and making sure get the resolution they need,” he said.

> New officers, new diversity for Metro Transit Police

> Metro Transit Police Department

> Help solve a crime – use TipLine

Safety Transit Police

New officers, new diversity for Metro Transit police 

| Monday, August 05, 2013 10:49:00 AM

As new immigrants to the United States, Abdulkhayr Hirse and Salah Ahmed relied heavily on transit to get to work and school.

A few short years later, their experience is coming full circle. The Somali-born men were among 19 new full-time Metro Transit police officers sworn in on Friday, Aug. 2, as the department welcomed one of the most diverse groups of new hires in the history of the 20-year-old organization.

With their hire, the department now includes four Somali officers, including the first Somali sergeant in the country, Waheid Siraach. Mukhtar Abdulkadir, who was also born in Somalia, was among 22 part-time officers who joined Metro Transit Police this spring.

Following Friday’s ceremony Hirse and Ahmed said they were excited to begin their new roles, serving as role models for young Somalis as well as ambassadors to the wider transit community. As with all transit police, they will be responsible for patrolling light rail and commuter trains, buses and station areas and will play a key role policing the METRO Green Line when it opens next year.  

“We’re here because we want to change someone’s life, or at least make their day or night a little bit better,” said Hirse, who worked in security after moving from Kenya to the United States in 1998.  

Ahmed, who previously worked as a probation officer and park ranger, said he was eager to join the force because it will allow him to have more interactions with community members. “It’s not just about sitting in a squad car but getting out and talking to people, connecting with the public,” he said.

The visibility could encourage other young Somalis to consider law enforcement as a career as well, said Siraach, who joined the department nearly six years ago and was named acting sergeant in July.

“It’ll be a great thing for them to have somebody to look up to,” he said. “This is really exciting for us and it makes us better as an agency.”

For Police Chief John Harrington, the department’s growing diversity represents a “changing of the guards” that will be key to building bridges in the community. This year, the department has made a point of increasing time spent on the streets doing beat work and connecting with community groups at events like Tuesday's National Night Out (Transit Police plan to attend 50 events in Minneapolis and St. Paul).

With transit customers speaking dozens of different languages, Harrington said it’s vital for officers to reflect and be able to relate to the people they serve. Officers in the new class speak Arabic, Spanish and Somali.

“People come here from every point on the globe,” he said addressing the officers at Friday’s ceremony. “Today, as you go forth from here, you will bring a new meaning to the phrase, ‘By the people, for the people, of the people.’”

General Manager Brian Lamb echoed the sentiment. Besides introducing more diversity, Lamb said the department’s growth will allow officers to take a more proactive approach to policing and ensure Metro Transit customers feel safe and welcome. There are now 83 full-time Metro Transit police officers and 59 part-time officers.  

“It’s easy to be focused on the problems at hand, but that will only get us part of the way there,” he said.

Another 26 part-time officers will be hired this fall. Acting Lt. Jason Lindner, who oversaw the hiring of the new class, said the department received more than 500 applications when it advertised the new jobs earlier this year.

The response was due in part to greater outreach, something Lindner said would continue as the department continues to grow.

“It’s really important for every class to get a good cross-section of people,” he said. “That’s what’s going to allow us to be able to hit more areas than we ever have.”

> Star Tribune: New officers join Metro Transit police force

> Coverage by Mogadishu Times, Hiiraan Online

> Metro Transit Police Department 

Top left: Abdulkhayr Hirse poses with St. Paul and Minneapolis police officers prior to the Metro Transit Police Department's swearing in ceremony on Friday. Bottom right: Salah Ahmed poses with an officer from the Dakota County Sheriff Department on Friday.

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