Skip to Content

Support MinnPost

Internal review shows major racial disparities in Metro Transit arrest and citation rates

Internal review shows major racial disparities in Metro Transit arrests
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
Metro Transit police give citations to black adults at a rate almost five times higher than white adults, and arrest them about seven times more often, according to the study, compiled by Metro Transit.

In light of a new study showing troubling racial disparities in how officers ticket transit riders, Metro Transit announced Wednesday it will be taking immediate steps to re-examine how its police force treats people of color.

Metro Transit police give citations to black adults at a rate almost five times higher than white adults, and arrest them about seven times more often, according to the study, compiled by Metro Transit. Police cite Native Americans five times more than white riders and arrest them more than eight times more frequently.

When Metro Transit officers encounter a rider attempting to evade paying the fare for the first time, they have the option of giving out a ticket or a warning. Adult black riders get the ticket at a rate 26 percent higher than white riders in these encounters, according to data. Native Americans are 152 percent more likely to be issued a ticket rather than warned for a first offense when compared to white adults.

“This study tells me that we have a problem,” said Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington in a statement. “We are taking immediate action to address it.”

Metro Transit police are still investigating the cause of the enforcement disparities. At a press conference Wednesday, Harrington said the department does regularly analyze its data, and it previously has not shown uneven citations and arrests among different races. He said the department is investigating whether a few individual officers are responsible for the disparities or it's a department-wide issue.

“Everyone has biases of some kind," said Harrington. "Whether those biases actually influence the decisions you make is something I want to know about.”

He said he knew of at least one formal complaint of racial profiling, and he believed the officer had been disciplined.

Arrest and citation rates by demographic group
Rates per 100,000 riders were calculated based on an assumed ridership mix of 56% white riders, 27% Black, 6% Asian, 3% Native American and 8% other.
Source: Metro Transit

Earlier this year, the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union published a study showing racial disparities in low-level arrests made by the Minneapolis Police Department. The ACLU requested similar data on how transit arrests and tickets people based on race, and after seeing the numbers, Metro Transit officials said they took a deeper dive into the data and decided to publish their own report.

The study notes that the rate of violations committed by each racial group is unknown, so the analysis does not distinguish whether the enforcement disparities are related to bias in enforcement or reflect differences in actual incident levels across racial groups.

The study found that in the cases of most serious offenses — gross misdemeanor and felonies — there was no difference in rates of warnings, citations or arrests based on racial group. Juveniles of all races also appeared to be ticketed at the same rate, according to the study.  Metro Transit touted the fact that 35 percent of its officers are members of racial minorities, which is higher than the Minneapolis Police Department, where 21 percent of officers are non-white. The report comes less than two months after a transit officer was fired for assaulting an autistic teenager.

Among the steps Metro Transit is taking immediately:

  • Impartial policing classes, which will train officers in dealing with riders of all races.
  • Offering officers language classes in Spanish and Somali.
  • More training in how to deal with riders with disabilities.
  • Examining best practices in metro transit departments in other states and implementing them here.

The department has also met with the NAACP to come up with other efforts to remedy the disparity, including asking an independent organization to examine its policies, asking for more community input and mandating warnings for all first-time fare evaders, rather than tickets. Most of these changes will go into effect by summer 2016.

Metropolitan Council Chair Adam Duininck called the data "shameful."

“The disparities and the numbers are not acceptable," said Duininck. "It's something that we need to fix.”

Get MinnPost's top stories in your inbox

Related Tags:

About the Author:

Comments (13)

Issue

"analysis does not distinguish whether the enforcement disparities are related to bias in enforcement or reflect differences in actual incident levels across racial groups."

I feel this story is a bit misleading due to the above. My hunch is that differences in actual incident levels across racial groups do exist and are a large cause for the results of this study. While eliminating racial bias in law enforcement is important, we all should admit that racism still permeates our society, shaping the identities and actions of all races. It is everyone's responsibility to fight racism and work towards a society where there is no correlation between race and actual incident levels.

Metro Transit study not misleading on that count

The statement you quote is about the ACLU study of the Minneapolis Police Department. The study done by Metro Transit showed this:

"When Metro Transit officers encounter a rider attempting to evade paying the fare for the first time, they have the option of giving out a ticket or a warning. Adult black riders get the ticket at a rate 26 percent higher than white riders in these encounters, according to data. Native Americans are 152 percent more likely to be issued a ticket rather than warned for a first offense when compared to white adults."

The incident levels in the Metro Transit study are the same for all racial groups: one incident.

Story needs more information

The story does not say how often white riders are found without a ticket versus how often minorities avoid buying tickets. That information would help put the story in perspective.

More Information

That statistic would not mean much, since all races are not equally represented among transit ridership. The data presented is for number of incidents per 100,000 rides.

The complete study is a little hard to find (I could not find a news story that links to it). Here it is, for anyone interested: http://www.metrotransit.org/Data/Sites/1/media/blog/police_report-12-17-....

It is kind of interesting how your comment was worded: White riders are "found without a ticket," while minorities "avoid buying tickets."

More offenses equal more tickets

Studies have shown a very high % of young black males in the justice system - in jail, awaiting trial, on probation, etc.
This is because young black males commit more crimes, not because the rest of us are biased. We need to understand real reasons if we are to deal with the problem.
It goes back to family situations, lack of a good early ed program, etc. Instead of billions for unreliable renewal energies, let's put resources into programs supporting minority youth.

Study shows Minnpost commenters display racial bias.

A study has shown that 3 of 4 commenters on a racial bias in policing story have displayed their own racial biases with comments like these:
"My hunch is that differences in actual incident levels across racial groups do exist..."
"The story does not say how often white riders are found without a ticket versus how often minorities avoid buying tickets."
"This is because young black males commit more crimes, not because the rest of us are biased."

my experience...

As a LRT rider, I thought I'd share my experience as a woman of mainly Northern European descent.

The ticket checks conducted by Metro Transit have been random, including not necessarily asking to see the ticket/metro card of everyone in a train carriage when they come on.

This past November is one example. A morning train, about 6:10am, leaving the Lake St Station heading to downtown Mpls. The transit cops enter last and announce that they need to see people's tickets (maybe 20 people on my carriage total). The man next to me, in a nice suit, coat and a very expensive briefcase has his ticket examined quite closely. The cops don't bother to even ask me to take mine out of the case so they can scan it. The shabbily dressed man across the aisle doesn't bother to show a ticket or make a show of looking for his ticket: the transit cops don't give him even a second glance, they just walk away.

In this example, the transit cops only bothered to look at the best dressed man's ticket: he was the only minority of the three of us. They ignored me and the shabbily dressed white man completely.

So, when this report came out, it didn't surprise me in the least. The bias starts long before the transit cops even decide if they are going to give a warning or a ticket.

"35 percent of its officers are members of racial minorities"

Were the cops white?

As an Indian, my solution would be to allow card-carrying tribal members to just show our ID cards and ride for free. You owe us.

Lots missing, but . . .

Yes, there is more information that could make this clearer. Bottom line is, maybe we need to just quit with warnings. With speeding tickets too. You don't have your metro ticket, you are fined. Why do you need a warning? You didn't know you needed a ticket? The only exception I see for warnings might be tourists who don't know the system and thought they were to get the ticket onboard, since that is the case in some places. I know it is difficult to define tourist since I could be a suburbanite who has never used the system and consider myself a tourist, but since I am local I can fight the ticket if that is the case. If we want to be fair, just take the option away. And make sure there is clear signage before you get on saying no ticket, no warning.

Lots missing, indeed!!

As an inveterate Metro Transit rider, what I've actually seen with my own eyes is that the number of interventions by police or even by drivers who insist on the payment of fares is swamped by the number of informal waivers of fare payment. I am talking about buses here, not the trains, which are a completely different circumstance.

What I mean is that the vast majority of cases of non-payment I have seen are settled by a brief conversation between passenger and driver where the driver simply allows the passenger to ride without paying a fare. The drivers don't want to halt the route and proceed to a big argument, and even less do they seem inclined to call in the police. I think this is roughly the way it should be handled - as it is being handled now.

These studies do not cover what the offensives are

There is never a comparative studies to the type of offenses. Just like what happens when reporting school disparities. These comparisons do not take in account for how the person reacts when confronted. What the study might suggest is that white parents are teaching their children better society manners than other groups. Instead of asking what are the asking what whites are doing that is working for their children versus the headline playing into enticing racial bating
tensions by not reporting the whole story. Same thing when school suspensions are reported

Just another perspective on how to interpret the disparities

Yet Another Perspective

The fact that white people may have been taught "better society manners" should not matter when the decision is to give citation is for riding without a ticket, or giving just a warning.

"Racial bating" seems inherent in the suggestion that those "other groups" just don't know how to behave in public.

Race Cards, Bus Passes and Reader Bait

This entire discussion seems irrelevant, as it is based on thin evidence and pretty informal analysis by the author. Really, does anyone really care who is not paying the bus driver, or who is paying the fare, or who is getting a "pass"? What we have in this article seems mainly to be trolling for reader hot buttons. Let's try to resist every bit of bait dropped upon us...racial or otherwise.

Let's just use our MinnPass judgment for some of these MinnPosts.

Happy New Year, Everyone!