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December 17, 2015

Metro Transit Police Department addressing disparities, inviting community conversation on fair and unbiased policing

Metro Transit is reviewing and examining the policies and practices of the Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD) after data shows disparities in the treatment of people of color. Additionally, Transit Police are taking initial, immediate actions to begin addressing these disparities and holding itself accountable for fair and unbiased policing.

A new Metro Transit analysis of data initially requested by the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union indicates that more serious crimes appear to be enforced consistently across all demographic groups. However, when it comes to working with violators of less serious crimes – particularly first-time fare evasion – the data show reason to be concerned about disparate treatment, particularly within the black and Native American communities.

"This study demonstrates a clear and compelling need to investigate the reasons behind these disparities in our policing," General Manager Brian Lamb said. "These disparities cannot be ignored and we must hold ourselves accountable. It is important that we work in partnership with our community to come to a deeper understanding of these statistics and how we improve our policing practices."

The study, normalized with race data collected in the 2014 Metro Transit Rider Survey, found that when police encounter first-time fare evaders:

  • > Black adults are 26 percent more likely to be cited rather than warned when compared with white adults.
  • > Native American adults are estimated to be 152 percent more likely to be cited rather than warned when compared to white adults.
  • > These disparities were not found (or data was insufficient) during the first ten months after the METRO Green Line opened. During part of this period, Transit Police were required by directive to warn, rather than cite, for first-time fare evasion.

Additionally, according to the study, Native American and black adults were more likely to be arrested or cited rather than warned for low-level offenses. This data was analyzed following a request for information earlier this year from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). While analyzing that smaller set of data, Metro Transit wanted to do a deeper analysis to look into the problems they were seeing.

"This study tells me that we have a problem," Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington said. "We are taking immediate action to address it. I want our communities to understand that I know our officers are at their best when they act as guardians for all of our riders."

     > Download Metro Transit's "Analysis of Police Incidents by Race"

Taking Action to Address Racial Disparities

Based on the data collected in this study, and building on training efforts already underway, MTPD will continue its efforts to build an agency that is both responsive to and reflective of the communities it serves. MTPD is also in ongoing conversations with the NAACP of Minneapolis about potential changes to the police force’s policies and procedures.

Efforts already underway by MTPD include:

  • > Disabilities training for officers – Training officers to safely, fairly and equitably treat people with disabilities. The most recent graduating class of police officers have undergone additional training regarding working with people who may be Autistic. This training will be incorporated into all future officer training.
  • > Impartial policing classes – Training officers to be fair and impartial in their policing practices amongst all people, including people of color. This training has been scheduled for all officers and will also be incorporated into future training.
  • > Examining best practices – Metro Transit will examine best practices at similar transit-oriented police forces across the country and consider implementing those tactics to help ensure fair, unbiased policing.
  • > Diversifying the police department  Metro Transit Police officers are 35 percent diverse, which is one of the most diverse law enforcement agencies in the state. Many officers have taken Spanish classes and will also be taking Somali language classes.

In response to the study and discussions with the NAACP, MTPD is undertaking these additional efforts to address disparities in its treatment of people of color:

  • > Directive regarding first-time fare evaders – Earlier this month, Chief Harrington directed all MTPD officers to follow a policy of issuing warnings to all people on their first encounter with fare evasion.
  • > Comprehensive examination of policies and procedures – MTPD has asked the Minneapolis-based Council on Crime and Justice, a non-profit organization committed to building a criminal justice system that is equitable and just, to conduct a comprehensive examination of the Department’s policies and procedures and recommend improvements to ensure racial equity in MTPD policing practices.
  • > Seeking community input – Metro Transit will work with community leaders to plan a series of meetings where community members and leaders can share their experiences and offer suggestions for needed changes.

Once feedback is gathered from the Council on Crime and Justices and community meetings, recommendations will be presented to members of the Metropolitan Council for consideration.

"The Metropolitan Council touches people’s lives all throughout our region," said Metropolitan Council Chair Adam Duininck. "We are committed to addressing equity both internally and externally. We can’t help the region thrive if only some in the community are prospering. The disparities we see in employment, education, housing, life expectancies, and in this case, the criminal justice system, hold our region back from being exceptional. I’m looking forward to the community’s recommendations on how we serve the region more equitably."

Within a year of any changes being implemented, those changes and data similar to these will again be reviewed and the results will be publicly reported.

Contact: Howie Padilla, Public Relations Manager, Metro Transit, howie.padilla@metrotransit.org, 612-349-7089

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