A Festivus Greivance: We Need a Change in How We Police the Green Line

Metro Transit Capitol

I ride the Green line everyday and so does my partner.  We are very lucky that we have a little house in Saint Paul and can walk to the Green line.  We are slightly less lucky to experience some of the non-sense that has been occurring on the train recently.

But before I begin, a few disclosures:

Disclosure No 1: This essay is about policing.

It is critical of policing, but it also suggests that policing is necessary.  You are welcome to believe that we should have no police whatsoever or that police should have twice the funding they currently have and also be draped in hymns and American flags.  It is your right to believe these things!  This is America after all: your right to free speech is sacrosanct.

But for the purposes of this essay, I want to stick to the ideas that a) we have a police force and we are keeping it b) they are in service to the community and since we pay their bills they owe us accountability and c) being a cop is a super hard job, but that job can be easier and more effective with training and community input/support the latter of which I offer here.

Disclosure No 2: My whiteness and maleness give me privilege to write this essay with relative impunity.

I am white and though I prefer the term “European mutt” to the term “white” as “white” was a term created by the Virginia legislators in 1691 with the express intent of retaining power for rich landowners in the face of Irish and African slave revolts, I do understand that my lighter Welsh/Italian/Ukranian skin affords me a huge amount of privilege in this country, especially in how I am able to interact with the police.

Racism is a measurable problem in police work, so If you have had a negative interaction with the police and you are something other than a “European mutt” and you are reading this: I feel you.  You have every right emotionally and spiritually to feel wronged by the police because that has happened and it is with good reason many people of color do not trust the police.  You are also allowed to roll your eyes and say “oh great another white dude with some moderate thoughts on policing, no way they are shooting at him.” All this is fair.  And Again: I feel you.

With all disclosures aside:  here are my humble suggestions regarding policing the Green line.

A: “Officer Friendly” Presence Must be for the Whole Line, not just from Snelling to US Bank Stadium

In general, I think the Metro Transit police force is underestimating the benefit of “Officer Friendlys.”  An “Officer Friendly” is a term used to describe when police are kind to children just to have a positive community presence.  I believe police can and should be kind to people even if they are not children so I am using the term here to describe when police hop on the train and just hang out.  They smile at people.  Usually they talk between themselves and let transit riders go about their day.

This has two benefits.  First, it’s good vibes to have “Officer Friendly” on the train.  It’s like when police give out popsicles in the summer: the force is humanized, law abiding citizens relax, and the kindness improves community relationships with the police so the community is more able to interact with the police from a place of comfort not fear.

This allows citizens to give needed input into the services they pay for making necessary police funding more palatable.  People are much more likely to want to fund the social-services-trained “Officer Friendly” than the officer who let their K-9 bite someone.  Being nice is great.  People like nice.

And for people that aren’t interested in playing nice and have the “Mens Rea” to cause trouble, it’s less likely they are gonna want to start trouble when there are two officers hanging out.

Troublemakers have noticed this lack of police presence: the dudes who jumped on the train a week ago and sparked a stinky cheap blunt (which I mean maybe its a victim-less crime, but 6am, really?) got on for two stops and got off before the stop where the police usually board.

The guy who has told myself and my partner “You better treat her right or I’m gonna murder you and fuck her,”  gets on right where the police get off.  I know this because this has happened MORE THAN ONCE to me and MORE THAN THAT to her.

And there were no cops, consistently, so the guy consistently harasses because he can reasonably expect less police after Snelling.  And the harassment continues unstopped, usually aimed at women.

The cops can’t stop this because they aren’t there.

What are they doing anyway, getting on at US Bank and off at Snelling?

B: Fare Checks Need to Stop.  Entirely.

After reporting harassment such as what is described above, I usually see an increase in police presence on the train.  But that presence seems overwhelmingly concerned with checking fares.  This is problematic.

First of all, fares overwhelmingly don’t fund transit.  I have written about this before as it is widely believed that fare dodging is a serious crime against society.  

The reality is transit is overwhelmingly funded by new auto sales taxes.  I know it’s a dumb way to do things, but it’s the way we do it.  The fares are negligible when it comes to global funding.  I’ve talked to award winning police officers about this and they agree that they’re wasting their time patrolling something that offers no benefit to society or transit funding as a whole.

But public opinion is what it is: people often complain about fare dodgers so the police feel compelled to respond to it though they know it’s meaningless.

So if you are one of the “Beckys” complaining about fare dodging, please, for everybody, just stop.   You are wasting everyone’s time, the police included.

Secondly, it is in my opinion questionable whether or not the police have a right to check fares as the fourth amendment protects against searches without cause.

I am not a lawyer, and if you have a specific circumstance regarding the police you have questions on, I would recommend contacting a lawyer and reading the  rest of this essay as a citizen’s opinion.

That said, it seems in order to facilitate checking fares, officers must get consent from citizens.  If citizens do not consent, officers threaten to remove them from the train.  This means that the officers have already threatened to limit freedom of mobility prior to getting reasonable articulable suspicion.  This isn’t right.

I tested this theory a few days ago with an officer.  I was drawing when he approached and had a particularly good weird eyeball going, so I asked the officer if he had any reasonable suspicion that I was engaging in crime or carrying a weapon.  He said he had no suspicion he could express and followed up by saying he’d throw me off the train if I didn’t let him check my fare.

Img 5948

A Particularly Good Weird Eyeball

Because I’m privileged, I gave him my monthly pass and he walked away saying “keep articulating, bro.”  For the record, I will keep articulating and this essay is dedicated to that officer’s admonition to keep expressing myself.  Specifically, I will articulate that I would prefer officers to protect and serve rather than violate my constitutionally protected rights.

I understand I am incredibly privileged to have a police interaction like I just described, as I’ve seen the police do the same thing to other people with much different results.  One was an old woman who didn’t speak any English.  They hauled her off the train.  Another was a man the police shook to wake up and he frantically searched for his fare.  They threw him off the train into the cold as he found his fare, waved it at them shouting, and pounded on the door to the warm train.  The officers laughed at him until I stopped them by asking “What was your probable cause in this, Officer?”  The officer shrugged and said, “Gotta check fares.”

I get that being a police officer is a tough job.  But that doesn’t justify bullying people to uphold a literally meaningless fare violation.  And it certainly doesn’t justify violations of fundamental American rights outlined in the constitution.

It’s fair that I expect officers to protect me from death threats and protect my partner from rape threats.  That is a hard job, but it is the job they are paid to do.

Let’s expect officers to do their jobs and not let meaningless and often times unconstitutional fare checks take up all their time.

C: Hustle Your Electeds Until They Give “Sleepers” a Dignified Place to Sleep.  Stop Making this a Policing Issue. 

It is no secret to readers of streets.mn that we are in the midst of a housing crisis.  Although it is traditional amongst urbanists to hear the words “housing crisis” and immediately begin a furtive and furious discussion about zoning, I will leave that discuss to smarter people than me and merely describe what I see in this crisis.

Minnesota gets very cold.  We are the largest metro area in America this far from the equator.  Anything farther north and you’re in Canada.

Because of this, homelessness becomes a serious health risk in the Twin Cities as you can literally freeze to death by not having a home.  So: many homeless people sleep on the train.

It’s warm and they don’t want to die.

All the shelters are full and have been for years.

Public funding for VA homeless services was cut decades ago and hasn’t been renewed.

So they sleep on the train.  Because it’s warm. And they don’t want to die.

And since the shelters are full and housing is expensive, there are more homeless people sleeping on the train everyday, and it’s not even January.

The police know this.  They have power points and training about it.  They do other good things too behind the scenes, intentionally out of the biased theater lights of politics or the fecund dumpster vomit of social media.

But people are frustrated about the situation and they complain.  The police then have to make policy based on complaints, and part of that is removing sleeping homeless people from the train every morning.  Into the snow.

I’ve spoken with police leaders about this, and they don’t like it any more than I do.  Nobody signed up to be a cop because they love Ebenezer Scrooge and it is emotionally taxing for many of these officers to day in and day out wake up a bunch of homeless people, many of which are veterans, and march them into the snow.

Though I think most of the force is generally good officers, I can see how dealing with this again and again and again could make a good officers have a bad day.  And a good officer on a bad day can still do bad things.

It’s a bad scene for everybody.

I play a mind game sometimes when my home owning privileged self gets on the train and I feel frustrated all the seats are full of sleeping homeless people and I can’t sit down or put my bike anywhere.

Remember those American flags and hymns we were talking about earlier?  I try to close my eyes and imagine where these homeless people, many being veterans, were when they were serving that flag.  I try to imagine the things they’ve seen they can’t un-see.  And I try to remember the friends they will never see again because they came home draped in an American flag.


It is nothing short than a cultural moral crisis that we’ve let it get this bad.  Veterans shouldn’t be sleeping on the trains carrying the weight of the wars they’ve fought with no mental health services to help them.  And they sure as hell shouldn’t come home to be homeless.

And we sure as Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea, etc. shouldn’t be complaining to the cops about them sleeping on the damn train.

We should be outraged and angry, but instead of dehumanizing the police into a mechanism to aide our continued denial by complaining about those sleeping with no home, we should not rest until each and every one of these Americans has a place to rest and access to services to help them carry the weight of the things they’ve seen.  We should feel even greater outrage for those whose lands were taken from them that now ride this train upon the same stolen lands as a homeless person.

Let not your elected rest either.  In the next life we like Ebenezer’s partners will be remembered for both the things we do and the things we do not do.

I speak in strong words here because these things are very personal to me.  This train I ride everyday is a diorama of my American experience, and because of that I can’t help but see myself as a younger man wandering along University Avenue.  I can’t help but see my relatives now passed on with the stories they could never truly express about their military service.  I see my ancestors who fought in the American revolution to bring us constitutional rights haunting this train as a ghost when I see a fourth amendment right being violated.  In the present I see those I love being harassed continually.  In the corner of my eye I see my snickering Italian great uncle selling oranges in Brooklyn when I see an immigrant kicked off the train. Past or present, ghost or not, this common space is a play being written of our America right before our eyes.

When we let homelessness and poor policing practices take center stage, it is our own story we turn into a tragedy.  So lets pick up pens and rewrite this story.  Let’s have better policing on the train. And let’s give the police a break by giving these homeless Americans a place to stay so the police at our request don’t have to be perpetually kicking them off the train.

This train is our American story.  So get your pen.  We’ve got a lot of edits to do.

Daniel Choma

About Daniel Choma

Daniel Choma is a community advocate, a jazz musician, and a former bible salesman. He rides bikes, plays drums, and tells jokes. He can consume a bag of jelly beans faster than almost anyone.

59 thoughts on “A Festivus Greivance: We Need a Change in How We Police the Green Line

  1. Mike

    Fact check:

    Statement: “We are the largest metro area in America this far from the equator.”


    Seattle is further from the equator than Minneapolis.

    I get what you mean though. Minneapolis is the coldest major city in the lower 48 U.S. states.

          1. Marty

            Who gives a dam about arguing about what city is the coldest or farthest from the equator. Not the point of this article.

  2. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    This is so great, thank you, Daniel.

    I wonder how the policing of homeless on the train will change when the Green Line is up and running out to Minnetonka and Eden Prairie. It will certainly bring exposure to the situation to a wealthier corner of the metro. It could result in either demands to stricter enforcement of everything, or sympathetic requests for better social services.

    Because it seems to take many political years to get change, now is the time to get movement.

    1. Monte Castleman

      Or else they’ll just go back to driving alone to work after a few unpleasant experiences in a train.

    2. Jeanette Colby

      From the StarTribune 11/16/18: Taxes and spending reflect our priorities as a society. We have collectively decided to spend $2 billion for a light-rail line between well-off southwest suburbs and downtown (avoiding dense Minneapolis neighborhoods). This is twice as much as any previous public investment in Minnesota. No meaningful environmental or traffic congestion improvements will result, according to the Metropolitan Council’s own environmental impact statement. It will, however, give some people a new transportation option in addition to regular buses, express buses, cars, van pools, Uber, etc. Personally, I will have easy access to Southwest light rail and probably will use it sometimes.

      Meanwhile, around 350 of our fellow community members use light-rail trains as shelter in the winter, and the Hiawatha encampment grows larger by the day. Just 10 percent of the SWLRT budget — the amount of the 2018 budget increase — could build 800 homes at $250,000 per unit.

      We can build a 21st-century public transportation system that prioritizes both innovation and fiscal responsibility. The SWLRT plan doesn’t do that. I wish a warm welcome to the new Hennepin County Board members and hope they can do better.

      1. Alina

        FYI the Hiawatha encampment has been cleared and former residents either have permanent housing or have been moved to a heated navigation center near the site of the encampment.

  3. Joe

    As a regular rider of both the Blue and Green Lines, it does make me angry when riders light up on the train. It’s even worse on the train platforms, where smoking is supposedly also prohibited. It grosses me out when riders eat on the train and throw their refuse on the floor. And don’t get me started with the ones who feel entitled to subject the entire car to their horrible music.This is when I fantasize about the cops bursting in, arresting the offenders, and dragging them off to Emily Post Prison.

    I try to be more sympathetic to the homeless population, but when it is rush hour and standing room only, it is frustrating to have one person laying across the seats, taking up three or four spaces while elderly ladies are standing and struggling to hang on to the strap.

    And why do some people feel it is their right to put their dirty, slushy boots up on the opposite seat? Do they believe someone is really going to want to sit on that damp spot? ARREST THEM!

    1. Eric Ecklund

      Maybe not arrest them, but something does have to change. Clear as day signage and announcements on the platform that smoking isn’t allowed doesn’t seem to be working. I think the only way to solve this and the other problems you mentioned is for riders to stop being passive aggressive and inform their fellow riders when they’re doing something against the rules. That’s a lot to ask for in Minnesota, but if enough people started politely (key word politely) telling people to stop breaking a rule then it could change selfish riders’ behavior.

      1. Dan Choma

        And re: smoking, I used to smoke, so I get the need to smoke a cigarette in the morning before the train. I don’t think police should be busting people up for smoking. That said, Ive never seen someone smoking on the train in front of an Officer Friendly

      2. Joe

        I have called people out for smoking on the platform and only get the hairy eyeball back. I also love it when smokers take a huge drag right before entering the train and then exhaling their filth throughout the car. Thanks, jerk.

      1. Jack

        If it makes you feel better, I use my privalege as a 6’4″ 220 dude to yell at people who light cigarettes/blunts on the train.

        I have 6/8 compliance rate. *smirk emoji

        But yeah, annoying as heck.

    1. Dan Choma

      Sure, but if you take into account that our bus system is the work horse of our Metro system and its almost impossible to fare dodge the bus, policing fare dodgers on the train at the expense of the fourth amendment still seems egregious to me.

      1. Dan Choma

        And even if we do need these fares, when I spoke with a Metro Transit Seargant, they said the goal for fares was to create 100% compliance. There is no transit system capable of doing that on earth.

        We can’t make that a policing goal and expect it to a) ever happen or b) result in good daily policing practice that an impossible citation goal is the reason for giving up the 4th amendment


  4. KD

    This is a thought-provoking read – thank you for sharing.

    I found myself reacting to your statement that fare checking may violate an unreasonable search and seizure per the Fourth Amendment, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because it seems, to me, that it is reasonable to expect that you will need to provide your proof of payment of your transit ride if it’s requested given Metro Transit’s policy about fare checking (https://www.metrotransit.org/transit-police-faqs). Additionally, I think it’s reasonable to expect that could happen each and every time you ride transit, whether that’s the bus or the light rail – although I recognize the numbers for light rail obviously don’t bear that out. That brings up larger questions about motivation and compliance, I suppose.

    I admit that the intersection of public transit and the Fourth Amendment is an area I’m not familiar with. Do you have any other sources that support your interpretation? The municipal court ruling is interesting, but as I’m sure you know, rulings tend to vary from municipality to municipality, district to district, etc. I did find this paper, and section G, in particular (beginning page 23), seemed relevant: http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/tcrp/tcrp_lrd_22.pdf

    1. Michael LewisMichael Lewis

      Fare checking is an administrative search. So long as there is no discretionary component (checking everybody’s proof of payment), fare checking is not required to meet the 4th Amendment standard of reasonable suspicion, or the lesser Terry standard of articulable suspicion. There is a Portland court decision that finds the TriMet system did not meet one of the four elements of a valid administrative search. (https://aclu-
      or.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/state_v._valderrama_opinion_order_18cr17532.pdf) but that analysis seems to neglect the rulemaking authority granted by legislatures to transit boards.

      1. KD

        Thanks for clearing that up! I thought they might fall under administrative searches (which is was section G in the article I linked above discussed), but I wasn’t sure.

        1. Daniel ChomaDaniel Choma

          Thanks to both of you for the elucidating coversation and links. Michael, as you mentioned the state granted authority, I looked up the revisor statute re: transit. https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/cite/609.855

          The statute mentions “authorized transit representatives.” Although I think you are right to say this could include metro police, it could also include unarmed transit employees as was the case in the stop made in OR.

          As a citizen it still seems egregious to me to ONLY use a police force with full police powers to check fares: a fundamentally non violent crime.

          I was also surprised to see misdemeanor penalties for fare dodging. It seems a bit much to put someone who doesnt show their fare in the same category as someone who threatens rape or murder.

          From a pragmatic perspective, I can see why the police don’t go after that guy who keeps threatening my fiancé: they literally get the same level arrest by busting up a fare dodger.

          Why would a self interested police officer go to all the work and risk of stopping that crazy possibly violent guy from continually and perpetually threatening a person when they can recieve the same employment rewards by just checking fares and giving misdemeanors to fundamentally nonviolent offenders? The nonviolent offenders will put up less of a fight for the same reward.

          Seems to me:

          A) We need to change fare violations from misdemeanor to petty misdemeanor

          B) The law overcriminalizing fare dodging leads to ineffective police work by incenting officers to go for an “easy win” rather than “to serve and protect”

          C) MetroTransit is intentional in using police to check fares even though the law doesn’t require it. They could just as easily use a “fare checking force” and let the police deal with more serious crime.

          Regardless, thanks for the readings. Appreciate the good discussion!

          1. Monte Castleman

            We use police to enforce other nonviolent crime- speeding and other traffic violations, narcotics possession, tax fraud, so I don’t see using them to enforce the nonviolent crime of fare evasion as an intellectual inconsistency.

            I’m assuming the reason we use police for that in the first place is that we want a certain amount of armed police on the trains and stations anyway to deter and respond to more serious crime, so we might as well use them to check fares between incidents rather than have them just ride around and look at the scenery. If you hired conductors to check fares you’d have to pay them in addition to still needing the police. Increased compliance would offset some of the cost but I still wonder if this would make new light rail lines unfeasible.

            1. Daniel ChomaDaniel Choma

              Yes but in order for the police to be able to perform an administrative search, it needs to be purely for administrative reasons (at least according to the link above.) we essentially have a police force that ONLY has the legal right to check fares. We’re spending all that money on guns for nothing! Its a labor issue to use such expensive fare checkers with such expensive toys they are arguabl legally unable to use. I still think theres a lot wrong with the policy, the execution of the police, etc.

              1. Daniel ChomaDaniel Choma

                I think the 2 for 1 cops (fare check AND serve and protect) gets iffy, at least thats what they said in the Cleveland case because having dual purpose invalidates the requirements necessary for a warrantless admin search

          2. Daniel ChomaDaniel Choma

            The other big question I have regarding the administrative searches is also related to the Cleveland case: In Cleveland, they retain the right to charge a criminal misdemeanor (like we do here as linked above) for fare dodging.

            One of the characteristics for an administrative search from the link above is that it is “furthering an administrative rather than criminal purpose.”

            Judge Groves argues that since the legal authority the police have is based on a possible criminal charge of fare dodging, then the 4th amendment requirements do apply:

            “This court’s concern is not regarding a legislative enactment, but rather the fare enforcement practice which results in countless Fourth Amendment violations to RTA passengers daily. Constitutional reviews are not only for defendants, but more importantly for law-abiding individuals whose rights are violated, but not subject to review, because no criminal charges are brought. Consequently, this questionable practice can continue endlessly, especially on low level criminal cases where defendants are pro se and unlikely to raise a constitutional violation. Also, the fare enforcement practice is not conducted by a single, random officer in an isolated incident, but by an entire police force (RTA) that confronts countless passengers, paid and unpaid, daily. Review of this practice by the court is necessary because this practice is a systemic attempt to arbitrarily “police” passengers and infringes upon their Fourth Amendment rights.”

  5. Pine SalicaPine Salica

    Hell yes to this whole article.
    So tired of watching police wake up sleepers and demand fares. LET THE PEOPLE SLEEP. not the right place for it? GIVE THEM SOMEWHERE TO GO. otherwise, leave them be.
    the capitol building sure does have a lot of open floor space when they’re not holding meetings…

    rudeness like smoking needs to be enforced by fellow passengers, as does heckling/harassment. men who ride transit: don’t let this shit fly. step in.

    1. Anna

      Let’s not pretend that fellow passengers stepping in doesn’t come with risk as well. I’ve politely asked someone to turn down their music and it almost turned into a brawl. Most people doing rude things don’t care about other people and will get very defensive when called out on it.

    2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      Moderator note: I removed a post here that did not fit with our comment guidelines. It’s possible to discuss difficult issues without an hominem statements about others in the thread.

      1. jared czaia

        Fair enough Bill. I’ll tone it down. But it is worth asking the question of whether men have a duty to defend women in public spaces and how this traditional idea of gender roles can coexist with progressive notions of equality.

        I’m not sure it is a fair or realistic expectation. Given how easily things can escalate, especially when many of the offending people are dealing with mental health issues, the average “responsible” male riding transit won’t necessarily be equipped to deal with the escalation.

        If I was the author, and someone yelled something threatening and offensive like that to me and my wife, I’d probably ignore him in order to de-escalate. The last thing I want to do is get beat up by a mentally ill person and the second to last thing I want to do is beat up a mentally ill person.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          “whether men have a duty to defend women in public spaces”

          Duty? People should care about others and be interested in helping them where they can. Duty is the language of the weird libertarian right that thinks that others expecting them to be human is some sort of imposition.

          “how this traditional idea of gender roles can coexist with progressive notions of equality”

          I don’t see any conflict. When encountering harassment, men can and should use the privilege of their maleness to help out the person being harassed. This has nothing to do with traditional ideas of gender roles.

          “the second to last thing I want to do is beat up a mentally ill person”

          I’m pretty sure Nicola was not asking you to beat anyone up.

          1. jared czaia

            Adam, your arguments hinge completely upon semantics. You bristle at the use of the word duty but go on to describe that you do indeed believe men should step in as Nicole requested. I don’t see any significance in phrasing this expectation as a duty, or as a should.

            True, Nicole wasn’t asking me to beat anyone up explicitly – but the threat of violence is implicit in this situation. Otherwise there would be no reason for Nicole to request the assistance of a man vs a woman.

            You can use updated language to describe deferential treatment for women (“use the privilege of maleness to help out”) but it still comes back to the difference between our bodies and the notion that a man should come to the aid of a woman in distress. In an urban environment, people tend to be more progressive and I’m not sure my reprimands would even be wanted/appreciated by the victims of these inappropriate words.

            Anyways, I’m happy to physically defend any person if they are in immediate danger, but I’m not going to go out of my way to reprimand anyone for saying inappropriate things. Your safety and health is of major concern to me; the socially unacceptable behavior of other riders isn’t. Especially when attempting to correct it can escalate and create a more dangerous situation for everyone.

            Apologies for taking things off the main topic, and for incurring my initial comment removal, but I think it is worthwhile to consider expectations and best practices of men and women in public spaces as long as it’s been brought up.

        2. Rosa

          given how many women give up on public transit because of sexualized harassment, anyone who wants people using transit should be standing up against it.

  6. Daniel ChomaDaniel Choma

    KD, I love that link you posted! There’s a lot there to parse. I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t really give you any concrete interpretation of how this all works in specific situations or how to interpret the law. This means I have more questions than answers (literally only questions, actually), but MAN do I have a lot of questions on this topic:

    The Cleveland case was the one cited in my paralegal Criminal Law Textbook indicating that police *can* check fares (which was published in 2014) but in pursuit of finding an article to which I could link, I found it overturned by Judge Groves.


    Other questions include: “does the government have a compelling interest that is *specific* to it’s goal to search every passenger on the train to see if some of the passengers aren’t in compliance?” I dunno, you’d have to ask a lawyer or a judge.

    The Portland case referenced on pg 23 of the doc you linked is super interesting to me as well: ( Weber v. Oakridge Sch. Dist. 76, 56 P.3d 504 (Or. App.
    2002) It gives elements as to what is required for a warrant-less administrative search.

    That said, there was a recent case in OR where the appeals court was like “whooooooooa doggy, searching everybody on transit? You gotta have an individualized suspicion for fare dodging, mmmkay?”


    Is there a situation like this in MN? Dunno. Not a lawyer.

    I also have a buuuuunch of questions as to whether or not these fare searches pass “strict scrutiny,” in that the are for a compelling govt interest and that when the rubber meets the road the execution of the search is specific to that one expressed government interest. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strict_scrutiny

    Is a fare check a compelling government interest if fares fund 25% of of transit? What if the specific fares and checks are a smaller amount because it’s only trains? How compelling are fares as a state interest? What if the person consents first? Is a system that requires consent to a warrant-less search procedurally unconstitutional?

    And beyond that is checking 100% of people when only some of the people are fare dodging narrow enough to achieve that goal?

    Man, I don’t know the answers to any of these things. I am very much not a lawyer. But questions galore!

    I do think there is a value in debating this as citizens that aren’t lawyers, though, because it seems to be a question that is being asked all over the country. Having a better informed populace seems like a rad idea and I like it.

    1. KD


      SO many interesting questions to consider!

      An additional question I’m considering is – just how random *are* the searches on trains (i.e., where they’re conducted, when they’re conducted, how thoroughly they’re conducted, etc.)? I think that could speak to how much discretion and latitude sworn officials have in validating fares, something to consider for warrant-less administrative searches.

      I am surprised that, given how many hits I got on the term “proof of payment” and how popular it seems to be, that there is not more case law out there. The ones you linked are fascinating, though, and one of the articles mentions ACLU involvement. Maybe I’m just living under a rock! In any case, thinking (way) back to the one law course I took has been fun, and I want to do more digging.

    2. Monte Castleman

      The 4th amendment argument is interesting. As other commentators have noted whether there’s an issue is getting mixed court rulings. It seems fundamentally similar to a DUI checkpoint where the police check all the cars or random cars or every nth car which has also gotten mixed court rulings, and been ruled illegal in Minnesota.

      Fare evasion rate is not going to stay the same if everyone knows that no one can check. Since we can’t apparently build gates or pay conductors on every car does that mean we won’t be able to build more light rail lines or have to find funding to run them from other sources? Will we start to have problems with rider behavior on free transit- will people start to use it as a place to hang out and be rude and boisterous rather than using it as transit?

  7. Dale

    I agree with most of your comments concerning policing on the trains. It has been suggested that the police do more riding just to show the police presents. As far as the fare checking goes they must check a certain number of fares to comply with a federal requirement because of federal funding. As for being a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights if you are as for your fare I’m not sure that is correct. Just like getting asked for your license when driving your car. You are breaking the law by driving without a license just like you are breaking the law by riding public transportation with paying a fare. Must of the homeless have monthly cards. (Given out by social organizations). Where else can you get a room for a month for $120.00? The main purpose for the fare checks is to just get people up and moving. You are right about getting your elected officials to do something about the homeless situation. The rail lines were not built to be the rolling homeless shelters there by taking the burden off the state governments the address the issue. (Therein lies the reason that St.Paul wanted the train to operate 24 hours.). Homeless people should certainly be allowed the ride the train just like everyone else. What you should not be allowed to do is live on the train,harrass other customers,eat food and discard leftovers all over the floor, smoke and drink, and just be rude and obnoxious, vomit,defecate on the seats, urinate on the floor, trash the seats, rip the seats off the bases, and just have no respect for the other passengers.

  8. clare W

    The trains has become a mobile homeless shelter this has become a huge problem the police seems to avoid the train instead they are riding low ridership route such as the 23

    .Ridership will drastic decline unless the Police start focus on the train with the homeless and the bad behavior.
    As regular rider here are some behaviors that are common:
    ,smoking in the train ,and station
    setting paper on fire in the train .
    urinating on the train
    soliciting .
    Trashing the train leaving sticky liquids on seats and on the floors
    Old clothing thrown on the stations and floors.
    One woman was telling some visitors she fell asleep some was guy was pulling her pant ,.
    there was a pitbull running in the train and station .
    Sell drugs at the station.

    Metro transit should not wait for an outbreak of scabies ,lice or bed bugs
    Metro Transit Police need to focus on the train to capture the fare evasion.About $1M is lost from fare evasion(Startrib).

    SF MUNI is building housings above their garage maybe the MET COUNCIL can explore this option for the homeless the State/Fed/county for the expansion of Heywood .Within a few years most buses will be electric .The MN St shelter has been a homeless shelter .

    There are too many mentally ill riders roaming freely on the train
    The Blue line one guy was shouting for the entire trip the next another not as intense .

    1. Dan Choma

      $1million in fare evasion seems like a really big number, right? I mean my job sucks and barely pays me enough to pay the mortgage, It’s hard to imagine that much money.

      But the operating expense for MetroTransit are around 384 million, 24.7% of which are fares. That means 85 million bucks are what we get in fares. 1 million dollars in loses from fare dodging accounts for 1.2% of that. I have a hard time arguing that we need heavy handed policing practices that are arguably unconstitutional in order to recover 1% of missing revenue. In that context it seems more logically sound to me to just let the police do police work and not make them a mechanism for negligible increases in transit funding at the expense of fundamental rights.

    1. Dan Choma

      Hey funny story, you’re right!

      I felt I was all hot stuff telling that one cop “probable cause” and then a few days later I learned about “reasonable articulable suspicion.”

  9. Rick I

    There is absolutely no Fourth Amendment Right to refuse to show that you paid a fare to ride a train that requires a fare, in the same way there is no Fourth Amendment Right to refuse to provide proof of a permit to occupy a tent site at a State Park to a park ranger or refuse to provide a license to operate a restaurant to a health inspector. This is not a “search” under the law. Period. Full Stop. And it’s unfortunate that you spent so much time on something that is so easily fact-checked on an article that otherwise raises good points.

  10. Brian

    If they quit doing fare checks they might as well just make light rail free. Metro Transit reports about 10% riding free now and the real number is probably even higher since they don’t check everyone.

    1. Rosa

      I always wonder how they figure that. I had a whole winter when I had a monthly pass but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t being read by the machine most of the times I tried to swipe it. And I never had time to figure out what/why was happening with the swipe box, it hardly ever beeped like it read something but my pass was totally valid (student pass from Metro State). So would I be part of the paid or unpaid estimate?

  11. Allen

    Hardly anyone uses transit who couldn’t use other modes. This is a recipe to destroy that.

    a) Fares – You have to have fare checks. If not, nonpaying will escalate out of control and what little revenue fares raise will fall off a cliff. We’re seeing this happen to MTA in NYC today. This is a serious problem. As it is Metro Transit has been cutting service. This will greatly worsen that problem.

    b) Homeless- Yep, they can’t sleep there. It’s the best solution for the priorities at hand. If you don’t clear them, you will literally end up with trains packed with these folk. What few seats are available for those needing to sit will be permanently occupied. It sucks but not dealing with the sleeping sucks worse.

    Go down that path and the problems will grow exponentially.

    Officers on the trains the whole trip would be great. Make sure they have the training and tools and policy to deal with the variety of situations that happen in and around mass transit.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      As to b), I understand that Transit Police basically let them sleep there right now, and yet there are seats available for others, so I’m not so sure about your predictive powers.

      (I’m also reasonably confident that NY’s MTA maintenance/service problems have little to do with fares)

  12. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

    Boy am I tired of the people who argue that it’s OK to steal fares from the public and somehow the police don’t have the right to enforce clearly defined laws against fare evasion. Every fare they steal reduces the money available to provide the service that all of us Streets.mn types feel is essential to living a green lifestyle. So please stop.

    1. Daniel Choma

      For the record, nobody is arguing in favor of stealing, Im arguing against using the police to check fares. I, like the Judge Groves in Cleveland, think it’s a little much that the person checking fares be carrying a weapon capable of ending a life. I also think

      it’s a little much that they check everyone indiscriminately when they have no specific proof.

      Its a petty misdemeanor, no more than a $380 fine. Why should we patrol petty misdemeanors with a crew of people capable of ending a human life?

      Respectfully, please argue the points I made, not a strawman.

      1. Frank Phelan

        What are the alternatives? Is there a mechanism you would propose to enforce payment of fares? Or would you propose no enforcement at all?

        If Metro Transit police did not enforce payment of fares, and fare were still enforced, who would do that? If someone who is not an LEO told someone without proof of payment to leave the train, how likely is it that that request would be ignored? At that point, it’s a choice between not enforcing payment of summoning an armed LEO.

        I have no problem with you throwing out the ideas you have advocated here. I’m just trying to game out the alternatives.

        1. Daniel Choma

          There are many different options other than using armed guards to check fares. Amtrak uses people with brightly colored over-sized ties and cute round hats, for example. If a fare isn’t paid, they call the cops and the cops follow up on the specific complaint. It works.

          Some cities use turnstiles. I don’t advocate for this in MN, but it works.

          It’s a slippery slope argument to argue that if we don’t use armed police to check fares, no fares will ever be paid. I think that is unlikely to occur.
          If it is a problem, you could station police at fare stations so that they can encourage fare compliance there. This is what they do in Washingotn, Philly, New York, Boston, etc.
          There are (all over the country) many different ways to check fares.

          If you still want to use police but don’t want to search everyone, you could have a police officer watch video feed of the platform and radio in specific descriptions to the officer friendly’s on the train. They could then address the specific fare dodger and that suspicion is both reasonable and something they can articulate.

          The linked court case in Cleveland also gives some alternate ideas. I would suggest reading that if you are curious.

          My point here is that MN to my knowledge has NEVER done anything other than have the police check fares on the train, far before the case law allowing it in Cleveland was overturned.

          The combined police/fare compliance role seems to be a new idea in the era of light rail, Maybe, since it’s really not working out well from a daily civil liberties perspective, we should consider doing something other than checking fares with armed guards.

          Maybe we should have these armed guards do something else, like deal with that guy that keeps threatening to kill me and rape my fiance.

          1. Frank Phelan

            Hmm. How many platforms can one cop monitor at a time? You mention that the labor cost of an LEO checking fares is high, and my hunch is that this would be more costly. If anything, there is no need for an LEO to watch a monitor.

            Since there are currently no Amtrak like conductors checking fares now, that would require additional labor costs to hire and retain them. Again, I’m not sure where you are on labor costs here, if you’re trying to keep them down or not.

            And since I’m not an LRT rider (the east Metro is hard pressed to get additional express service, much less BRT or LRT), do monthly pass holders just walk onto the platform and onto the train? Or if I transfer from bus to train (after paying cash fare), do I just walk onto the platform and onto the train?

            The reason I ask that is that you mention a cop monitoring a video feed of a platform.

            1. Daniel ChomaDaniel Choma Post author

              These are all good questions, personally, since my experience is that the primary job the police do is to check fares and then leave the train, I think it may actually SAVE on transit costs to have a less expensive labor force check fares while having the armed police at transit stops or on ride-alongs in case there is any issue.

              As far as monthly fares go, there are these little boxes as you enter the train platform that you are required to check in with even if you have a monthly fare. I’ve always worried about the security of this and wished there were a police officer there, because if there are any rabble rousers around, they see exacfly where everyone puts their wallet. This doesn’t seem to be a huge issue in the midwest, but I think the pick pockets out east are smarter. (Sorry, east coast bias here. Go Sox.)

              I can see a big value in having a cheaper labor force check fares while having the armed police force doing armed police force stuff like watching train platforms and assuring that people aren’t being threatened on the train.

              To my knowledge, there are active video feeds on all the trains as well as all the platforms. It seems that the infrastructure is there so that the metro transit police force could easily do everything I’m saying with minimal investment. It would require taking on some of the same transit policing practices they do out east, but you know. Go Red Sox. 😉

              1. Frank Phelan

                I can see how that would make sense. I guess I just thought that the fare checks were incidental to the officer Friendly stuff, and just being a presence on the train in general.

                As far as monitoring security video, and fare checks, that could be done by a labor class similar to parking meter enforcement. Those folks are police department employees, but not LEO’s.

                It can be a fine line here, but it’s important to remember that middle class folks of all colors and seniors need to feel comfortable riding LRT. Recall the recent incident on a bus in MPLS, where someone got on at a stop and started beating the male driver, and the passengers were snickering. So if that’s possible with a driver, any passenger passenger can be expected to be wary of asking another rider to tone down the tunes, or stop smoking. That wariness only increases for those of us who aren’t physically prime age men, the young, the old, and women.

              2. Rosa

                I never ever ever get my wallet out on transit – I keep my GoTo card or change or transfer in a pocket. I guess I don’t watch other passengers closely to see how many do, and I know I’m more paranoid than average (my habit of not having my phone out either is really out of date – nobody’s going to steal my sad old barely-smart phone) but I’d guess most aren’t getting out their wallets to pay or show proof of pay, not if they’re seasoned transit users.

  13. Frank Phalen

    I’m not an attorney, but I play one on TV.

    None of our rights is absolute. My right to free speech does not allow me to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, nor does it allow me to yell a constant stream of Marine barracks profanity on the Green Line. By riding Metro transit, I am agreeing to the conditions placed on me, including the curtailment (but not complete elimination) of my First Amendment rights.

    If no one will ever be checked for whether or not they’ve paid their fare, we might as well say that LRT is completely fare-free, or just call it a suggested donation. And if LRT fares are either not enforced or made voluntary, why should I pay my bus fare? I don’t live, work, or play close enough to LRT to use it, so I pay for every ride I take.

    Of course, given my white privilege, I could probably ride LRT without paying, playing the odds that if I were ever caught, the fine would be less than all the fares I’ve saved. My version of an unethical employer figuring that pollution or OSHA fines are just a cost of doing business. This an work for downtown metered parking too, if you know the ins and outs.

    I’d find it interesting to know how many of the homeless hustled off the train are vets. Half? Three quarters? Twenty percent? But one homeless person is too many, veteran of not, they’re all creatures of God.

    1. Dan Choma

      The Strict Scrutiny link discussed earlier is what is applied in order to see if a fundamental right outlined in the bill of rights can be should have an exception. In the case of the fire in a movie theatre it was found that 1) the government has a compelling interest that people dont shout fire in a movie theater 2) the civil liberties of disallowing the word “fire” are sufficiently narrow to achieve the safety goals the government outlined in (1) and 3) there is no other way the government could achieve that same safety objective other than disallowing hollering “fire” in a theater.

      In regards to fare checks 1) is it compelling that the government needs to check fares? Does it keep people safe and retain their american rights? Maybe? 2) searching everybody to see if a few people havent paid, can you describe that as narrow? Maybe? But its a looong maybe. 3) is using armed guards the only way the government could check fares? Seems like there may be other options.

      So yea, i wouldnt yell fire in a theater, but im still questioning whether or not metrotransit can search people willy nilly

  14. Andrew Evans

    Not going to get into the political side of this, but just an observation.

    Light rail in general seems to occupy this weird spot between subway style stations, and buses/street cars with turnstiles, rail is on its own level. So it seems to be generally harder to patrol for fairs, but then again the other systems I’ve seen weren’t really, or didn’t seem, as extensive as what we have here. They were more or less a smaller scale system to easily move a lot of people, rather than the sole means of mass transit in a city. The trains I’ve been on will check everyone between stops, and I’m guessing will remove anyone on the next stop. However, their stops are usually more than 5-10 min apart and they generally have the time to do this. But, generally, from what I’ve seen it’s always been easy enough to skip into a light rail without paying, then accessing other forms of transit. In my somewhat limited travels, the best I’ve seen is Paris, where you are charged by zones and need the ticket when leaving, or in the past taking the air rail from JFK to the Jamaica stop I believe they have a controlled exit point.

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