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

Native Americans and blacks were cited by Metro Transit police at rates five times higher than white riders.

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.
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley

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.

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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.”