Metro Transit's new police chief promises beleaguered agency's "brightest chapter yet"
MINNEAPOLIS -- There's a new police chief in charge of public transit in the Twin Cities. Ernest Morales III was sworn in Wednesday to lead Metro Transit Police Department.
"I am committed to leading this department into the brightest chapter yet," he said.
Morales faces challenges like safety on light rail trains. Frequent riders often feel uncomfortable.
"[People] get high on the train," said Tim Grimes, a near-daily commuter. "They smoke pills, smoke meth, smoke crack. They do everything."
Paul Fleege, a daily commuter, says he feels unsafe most of the time.
"Very unsafe, because I don't know what they might do after doing the drugs," said Stephanie Dendy, who rides several times a week.
Morales says his top priority is regaining riders' trust in order to bring them back to the transit system.
"We have to be out there," he said. "We have to make people feel comfortable. We're just there as guardians of the people helping get from Point A to Point B."
He says Metro Transit can't arrest their way out of the problems on the trains. Morales says he sees what's going on as a social issue, and his philosophy is to work with homeless outreach centers, drug treatment programs and other organizations that can help.
"I would like to get those people services," Morales said. "If they're homeless, get them the services they need. If they're chemically dependent, get them the services they need."
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Morales has partners in the Twin Cities police chiefs.
"Let's do everything we can to bring all those services together with law enforcement and address these underlying problems," said Brian O'Hara, the Minneapolis police chief.
"[Transit] is a big piece for the overall safety of our city," said Axel Henry, St. Paul's police chief. "It's a big way for us to take the temperature of what's happening downtown, and that only works if we work together as a cooperative."
Many riders have said a more consistent police presence would make them feel safer.
"Every blue moon you see it, but they don't really ride," Grimes said. "They ride two, three stops and get off."
Morales spent more than 30 years with NYPD, where he oversaw New York's subways.
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