Updated: July 15, 2021 06:06 PM
Created: July 15, 2021 02:01 PM
On Thursday Metro Transit announced it will begin to invest an estimated $4 million a year toward public safety and customer service amid growing calls to address what several have called a crisis on trains and buses.
Metro Transit General Manager Wes Kooistra said the changes are "part of our effort to become a stronger and better transit system."
"By the beginning of next year, we hope to add 1,000 hours of presence, monitoring and customer assistance each week. Once the initiatives are fully implemented, that number will grow to more than 2,100 hours," Kooistra stated.
Transit managers say much of that additional presence will come from unarmed Community Service Officers (CSO's). Metro Transit says it plans to increase the number of CSO's from 20 to as many as 70 by next summer.
Investments into improving the system were initially implemented in 2019. In addition to re-deploying community service officers, the efforts included adding dedicated staffing in Metro Transit's real time information center and recruiting additional full-time Metro Transit police officers.
"These initiatives will be fulfilled with the goals and mission of the Metro Transit Police Department in mind. Our department is built on a foundation or service and diversity, including our full-time officers being 47% people of color," Metro Transit Police Chief Eddie Frizell said.
According to multiple reports from 5 INVESTIGATES, calls for improved safety on the light rail continued to intensify last month after an investigation detailed frequent drug use, drinking and crime on trains and platforms within the past two years.
In recent months, operators and police union leadership were skeptical about how effective unarmed service officers could be. Honey Darling recently left her job as a train operator over frustration about safety and security.
"If you take an individual person out there and they're supposed to be telling people 'no smoking on the train, do not shoot up, you can't drink, do you have a valid fare, ma'am or sir?' They're going to get beat up," Darling said.
Chief Frizell defended the plan to use more CSO's and said they will be made up of college students studying to become officers.
"They will be paired with sworn law enforcement officers. We're not just going to throw them into the system. They're police officers in training," Frizell said.
"We will seek advice and counsel on how we can improve, like we're doing right now with transit safety," Metropolitan Council Chairman Charlie Zelle said on Thursday.
"Count on us to be your partner today, tomorrow and through the next challenge."
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