Reported crimes aboard Metro Transit trains and buses increased 25% in 2023 over the previous year, the agency announced Monday. But officials say that a beefed-up presence of police, community service officers, security guards and others throughout the system is starting to pay off.
"Metro Transit has a lot to be happy about especially in the year 2023," said Metro Transit Police Chief Ernest Morales III in a news conference Monday. But, he added, "We need people to return, we're safer in numbers. We're now showing more of a human presence there."
Crime in the system peaked in January 2023 and declined through most of the year, Morales said, a trend that indicates the gains the system has made combating crime.
At the same time, ridership over the past year has increased about 15%, and is now nearly 60% of pre-pandemic levels. "I want to emphasize that we are recovering and coming out of COVID so ridership is also up," Morales said.
The news conference was already scheduled before a 27-year-old man was shot in the stomach Saturday during a robbery attempt on the Green Line in downtown St. Paul. No arrests have been made.
While the victim's injuries were not considered life-threatening, the incident, which occurred around 7:30 p.m., highlights the challenge Metro Transit faces as it tries to tamp down crime.
Noting that Metro Transit is still struggling to hire more officers, Morales called the weekend assault "a tragic incident, there's no excuse for it."
Metro Transit launched a safety plan in 2022 that calls for police and community service officers to spend more time on trains and buses while focusing on decriminalizing fare evasion, hiring nonprofit social service organizations for passengers in need, contracting with private security firms, and partnering with regional police departments.
"Having more resources permits Metro Transit to proactively address the most-frequent and common crimes," Morales said.