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Metro Transit has let two key agreements intended to boost the safety of employees and passengers aboard the Blue Line expire, saying the agency now has enough staffing to handle the job.

The transit agency signed pacts with the Bloomington and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport police departments last year to add officers at both MSP terminals and at the Mall of America as safety concerns aboard the light rail system escalated. The idea was to help bolster the Metro Transit Police Department, which was having trouble hiring and retaining officers.

But Metro Transit Police Chief Ernest Morales III, who assumed the department's top post last March, said this week the agreements with the MSP Airport and Bloomington departments are no longer needed.

Metro Transit has put in place a multipronged approach to beef up the presence of police and community service officers and private security, as well as Transit Rider Investment Program agents who help those using public transit connect with housing, mental health and substance abuse issues.

The plan is working, Morales said. "We're definitely seeing success. Complaints and crimes have gone down dramatically," he said, noting crime declined 24% so far this year, although overall crime in 2023 increased by a third when compared with the previous year.

Riders arrive by Blue Line train at the Metro Transit Terminal 1 station Wednesday at MSP Airport.
Riders arrive by Blue Line train at the Metro Transit Terminal 1 station Wednesday at MSP Airport.

Anthony Souffle, Star Tribune

The agreement with MSP police, which expired Feb. 16, came after airport employees implored the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) to do something last winter. Many employees who park at Terminal 2 and take the light rail to the main terminal said they felt unsafe aboard the trains because of drug use, violence and erratic behavior.

They even created a Facebook page, MSP Airport Light Rail Incidents, to share their stories. If recent posts are any indication, some employees still feel the safety measures aren't working, while others say they're starting to see a difference.

There were 132 reported crimes last year at both airport Blue Line stations, which accounted for nearly 10% of light-rail ridership last year, according to Metro Transit. So far this year, there have been 27 reported crimes; more than 70% of the police calls for service at these stations in 2023 were initiated by officers as a result of "proactive patrols."

Wade Luneburg, political director of UNITE-HERE Local 17, the union that represents some 1,200 airport employees, said the safety situation appears to have calmed down at the airport over the past year. "It seems like the dust has really settled on this," he said. Paul Slattery, an organizer and political director for Teamsters Local 120, which also represents airport workers, declined to comment on the matter.

The MSP agreement called for two airport police officers to patrol the Blue Line trains and stations at Terminals 1 and 2 daily from 4 a.m. to noon, when many workers begin their shifts. The agreement was always seen as a stopgap measure as Metro Transit implemented its safety plan, a big part of which relies on more personnel presence on light rail trains and buses.

MAC spokesman Jeff Lea said airport officers will continue to patrol the Blue Line stations at both terminals.

Metro Transit said private security officers are now riding the trains between Terminals 1 and 2 and patrolling the airport stations from 4 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily.

The agreement with Bloomington called for its officers to patrol on board the Blue Line and at stations between the Mall of America and the airport on an overtime basis. Hourly overtime rates varied from $62.38 to $108.25 an hour, depending on the officer's rank, according to the agreement, which expired Dec. 31.

It's not uncommon for local police departments to strike up mutual aid agreements: Metro Transit has pacts in place with the St. Paul Police and Ramsey County Sheriff's departments and with the University of Minnesota police force. U officers patrol the Green Line between the West Bank, East Bank and Stadium Village campus stations.

These agreements "provides a uniformed presence" on transit, Morales said, adding it's important to "work smartly and collaboratively." Usually, this collaboration occurs on an as-needed basis.

Other cities have struggled with increased crime aboard public transportation as they recover from a ridership decline during the COVID-19 outbreak. Last week, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul called in National Guard soldiers and State Police officers to patrol New York City subway platforms following a spike in crime on the nation's biggest transit system.

That doesn't appear to be in the works for Metro Transit, although Gov. Tim Walz served in the Army National Guard for more than two decades. Officials with his office said he continues to implement and develop strategies to improve transit safety.

General Manager Lesley Kandaras said this week that Metro Transit hasn't asked for National Guard assistance.

"We are always willing to work with our partners to promote public safety," Morales said. "At this time, we're happy where we are."

Three agents with Allied Universal Security Services hired by Metro Transit patrol the Terminal 2 station at MSP Airport Wednesday.
Three agents with Allied Universal Security Services hired by Metro Transit patrol the Terminal 2 station at MSP Airport Wednesday.

Anthony Souffle, Star Tribune