Messages from the Council Chair

Welcoming our new Metro Transit police chief

March 2023

Two people smiling at a podium.We’ve taken one of the most important steps we can when it comes to ensuring transit riders have a safe, comfortable ride — we’ve selected a capable, dynamic leader to lead Metro Transit’s police department.

Our transit system is part of the neighborhoods and communities it serves. It transports tens of thousands of people to work and school every day; it gets people to appointments and entertainment venues. Even during the darkest days of the COVID-19 lockdown, thousands relied on transit for approximately 63,000 daily trips. Transit doesn’t run though our neighborhoods, it’s an integral part of our neighborhoods.

That also means the needs of our communities are highly visible on transit. Like the region as a whole, transit is seeing what happens when the lack of affordable housing and shelter space lead to more unsheltered individuals using transit to stay warm. And when people can’t access mental health services, they may suffer crises publicly on transit. People are more visibly experiencing mental health issues, using drugs, and smoking in the confines of a transit vehicle than they are in most public spaces.  

Our riders have the right to expect a pleasant, safe trip, and people in crisis have the right to the support and services they need.

Ernest Morales III is a law enforcement professional with an impressive resume. He has spent most of his career in the New York City Police Department doing everything from crisis management to criminal investigation to administration. He was also a transit division commanding officer in the Bronx.

He has the leadership skills we need at this time, as well as the vision of how to address the challenges we are facing. The former New York City officer, Navy Veteran, and professional boxer believes that we need to take a balanced, even nuanced approach to addressing complex problems. “We can’t arrest our way out of our problems,” he told the Minnesota Legislature’s House Transportation Committee.

The Metro Transit Police Department is currently well below its complement of 171 full-time officers. Despite pay increases we’re still competing with nearly every other police department in the U.S. that is also experiencing low staffing levels. However, even fully staffed, more police isn’t the whole answer.

Morales will focus on making transit safer by increasing the visibility of Metro Transit representatives on our system. This will complement efforts already underway, including expanding efforts to recruit and retain police officers and Community Service Officers in addition to contracting with private security to supplement transit police presence at multiple locations.

This enhanced presence is meant to ensure riders that they are not alone, and that basic standards of behavior, or a code of conduct, will be enforced. Additionally, we’re adding more people to monitor the extensive video coverage we have of our buses, trains, and stations.

This increased physical and electronic presence will ensure that our police responses can be more efficient and effective. In some instances, we may need a traditional law enforcement response to remove someone engaged in criminal activity. If our riders or our staff are in danger, we have to ensure that we have the best possible response to that situation.

Other issues may require a response from our Homeless Action Team, or we may need to work with other entities to provide a mental health response. It is essential that we focus our law enforcement activities on those things that law enforcement does best.

Morales was chosen because he shares this vision of responding with the right resource at the right time. I am excited to work with him to help ensure that every rider has a safe and comfortable trip.

- Chair Charlie Zelle