By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Recent crimes on trains and buses has Metro Transit looking to make some changes – and they’re turning to state lawmakers for help.

Metro Transit General Manager Wes Kooistra says he is asking for more funding, and a change in the law, to help reduce crime.

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“We’re part of a larger community. The larger community is wrestling with increases in crime, and part-one crimes in particular,” Kooistra said.

More and more incidents of crime are caught on camera, including attacks on bus drivers and riders. A half-million dollars has been spent in overtime responding to this rise in crime, and officials say that’s not sustainable.

Kooistra says changing the system of managing fare evasion is needed so officers can focus on safety.

“Under the current law, fare evasion is a misdemeanor and it requires a police officer to enforce,” Kooistra said.

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Last year, Metro transit officers checked nearly 1.5 million fares. Fare checks take officers away from policing duties, and Kooistra believes checking fares and security should not compete for the same resources.

“That’s why we’re proposing to develop a program that will allow fare evasion to be managed through administrative citations,” Kooistra said. “It would be much like how parking tickets are managed.”

Under the proposal, those who don’t pay are slapped with a petty misdemeanor and pay a fee. The current system hits violators hard.

“One-hundred-and-eighty-dollar fine, and then you have a criminal record, and that criminal record can prevent you from having access to housing, jobs and so forth because it’s on your record and shows up in background checks,” he said.

Kooistra hopes state lawmakers approve a change in the law and add funding. He says it will give officers time for crime prevention and intervention, while allowing added personnel to focus on educating the public on how to pay fares.

Metro Transit proposed the policy change during the 2019 Legislative Session with no success. Kooistra says he is hearing a lot of interest from legislators on both sides of the aisle for changes, and hopes to have better luck in 2020.

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Reg Chapman