Metro Transit cops join exodus of metro police officers

It’s the last thing those who depend on public transportation in the Twin Cities want to hear. The number of police officers protecting passengers on Metro Transit lines has dramatically declined, with dozens of cops leaving the ranks already this year.

A newly released survey of the department’s morale among officers points in the direction of the Metropolitan Council as a key factor in the high turnover and difficulty in attracting new recruits. The Star Tribune broke down the results of the survey, which one Met Council member described as “really, really grim.”

When asked if police department employees would recommend their workplace to prospective job applicants — a key question gauging job satisfaction — 43% said they were likely to do so, as opposed to 68% in early 2020.

When asked if they’ve considered a career change, 58% of those employees responding said yes, compared with 42% in January 2020.

Lt. Mario Ruberto said 46 employees have left the department since January. “It’s very frustrating for those of us on the street,” he said.

The ranks of the Metro Transit police currently number just 113 full-time officers, well under the 156 full-time and 57 part-time police allotted to the agency. Tellingly, many of the cops who quit Met Transit do not want to leave law enforcement, but move on to departments in other cities, presumably with more supportive management.

“They’re saying, ‘This is an environment I can’t be part of anymore,’ ” officer Frank Hintz said.

Metro Transit Police Chief Eddie Frizell says he regularly meets with officers, including those leaving the department. “Often, as is the case with these survey results, we hear about issues both specific to our agency and issues that address broader concerns society wrestles with every day,” he said.

The survey indicated remaining officers “want change to prevent others from leaving,” and there’s concern that the issues prompting people to leave “are not understood by leadership.”

The systemic problems go even deeper, with many officers unhappy over the justice system’s revolving door that releases offenders back on the street without adequate consequences in their view.

About 90% of Metro Transit police officers say there’s no appropriate follow-up if they arrest or cite someone, and many believe they should not be responsible for fare enforcement.

About a third or fewer of those responding to the survey said they felt supported by the communities they serve, leadership at Metro Transit and its police department, the Met Council and other employees, including transit supervisors. Only 10% said they felt supported by the council.

“This is a reality check for us as a council,” said Council Member Susan Vento.

Only months ago, Metro Transit was touting a plan to hire some 70 new part-time community service officers to assist officers, along with a handful of new police recruits. But the abrupt loss of so many officers amid continuing concerns for passenger safety appears to have put the focus back where it belongs, namely, rebuilding a badly demoralized Metro Transit police force.